As we all know, in her short time in Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has engulfed herself in anti-Semitic controversies.

It turns out that Minnesota Jewish leaders attempted an intervention last year when it became known that she’d be the Democrat nominee for her seat. They felt they needed to do something due to past anti-Semitic remarks.

State Sen. Ron Latz (D) told The Twin Cities Pioneer Press about the intervention:

Maybe Omar, who spent four years, from age 8 to 12, in a Kenyan camp for Somali refugees, just didn’t understand, Latz recalled some wondering at the time.

The apex (or nadir) of anti-Semitism — the Holocaust — would be a matter of European history for a then-36-year-old Muslim native of Somalia. Did she know it? The trappings of anti-Semitism in Minneapolis — restricted hospitals, country clubs and property covenants — were American manifestations that vanished decades before Omar came to America. And the subtleties of language — the code words used to marginalize Jews — did she understand the nuance?

“We wanted to reach out to her,” Latz recalled. “We were a bit troubled about several things she had said.”

Among their concerns was a 2012 tweet in which Omar wrote: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” The language evokes an anti-Semitic trope of Jews as practicers of some type of sorcery that allows them to control others. It wasn’t until last month that Omar apologized, when the tweet gained national attention after she had taken office in Congress, but many in the local Jewish community were aware of it well before. As of Tuesday morning, Omar had not deleted the tweet.

In local political discourse during the Democratic Party’s endorsement process, Omar’s phrasing as she spoke of Middle East policy troubled some. But Latz — who has defended Omar’s predecessor, Keith Ellison, against accusations of anti-Semitism — emphasized that the problem wasn’t in the policy dispute, but the diction and tone.

“I don’t mind a policy disagreement. That’s fine,” Latz, who said he has qualms with some Israeli policies, said in an interview. “I accept that she comes from a different place and has a different policy, but those can be expressed in a matter that does not express anti-Semitism with it. She grew up in a refugee camp, and her perspective is different, but I would also respect a very serious attempt to understand the history of the Jewish people and the way that they have been demonized and murdered for their faith.”

The leaders had a two-hour discussion with Omar, but Latz didn’t want to recall all the statements from everyone because he couldn’t remember what exactly everyone said.

Instead, Latz said (emphasis mine): “Over the course of about two hours, we shared with her our concerns for things, including language that has references and meanings beyond just the meanings of words. Tropes, dog whistles — call them what you will. We explained to her how hurtful, and factually inaccurate, they were.

Even though Latz could not remember the exact statements from Omar, he said that the leaders emerged from the discussion “very troubled by the answers we received.” He also remained unconvinced “she was going to give a balanced approach to policy in the Middle East.”

The latest anti-Semitic incident with Omar occurred a few days ago when she suggested that Republicans only support Israel and hate anti-Semitism due to the Israel lobby. She tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby!”

When someone asked her about it, she replied AIPAC (Americans Israel Public Affairs Committee), even though the group does not directly give to a candidate’s campaign.

Omar issued an “apology” that many brushed off as insincere.

The local Jewish leaders did not accept the apology:

For Latz, it rings hollow. It’s the part where she says “just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity,” an apparent reference to Omar being trolled and insulted for being a Muslim — a real phenomenon she has encountered since being elected to the Minnesota House in 2016.

“Even in her tweet,” Latz said, “she cannot get away from saying that if other people criticize her, they run the risk of being labeled anti-Muslim. We have to call that out. At some point, it becomes a little tired to hear her say she’s being ‘educated.’ ”

Latz implied the latest incident might lead to a steady chorus of criticism from he and others.

“What can be done now is those of us who disagree sharply need to speak out publicly and forcefully. Some have been treating her a bit with kid gloves. No more.”

 
 
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