Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-MN) comments about Israel were met with a decidedly mixed reaction among the congresswoman’s Jewish constituents this week.
Omar, who represents Minnesota’s 5th district, has been at the center of controversy since she insinuated Sunday that American support for Israel was governed by the financial contributions of pro-Israeli groups like AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).
Omar’s comments drew swift bipartisan condemnation. President Donald Trump said Omar “should be ashamed of herself,” while House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) criticized Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” as “deeply offensive.”
On Monday, Omar apologized for the remarks, saying it was never her intention “to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole,” but stood by her concern over monetary influence in politics.
Listening and learning, but standing strong 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
In the wake of Omar’s initial comments, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC), which serves as a voice for a variety of smaller Jewish organizations in the congresswoman’s home district, warned against her use of anti-Semitic tropes, even if unintentional.
“Claims that American Jews manipulate our government with money invoke age-old anti-Semitism,” said JCRC executive director Steve Hunegs. “When combined with her previous tweet that Israel ‘hypnotizes the world’ to carry out ‘evil,’ such rhetoric puts our community in danger [and] should have no place in our politics.”
Hunegs added that any insinuation elected officials were supporting Israel “[only] because they are paid to do so” was “insulting.”
“For decades, members of both parties have stood with America’s closest ally in the Middle East because the American people support a strong and secure Israel,” he said.
Minneapolis’ Temple Israel synagogue, one of the largest Jewish congregations in Omar’s district, was also sharply critical of the congresswoman’s remarks. In a lengthy open letter, shared on Facebook by a rabbi from the Temple Adath Israel in Kentucky Monday night, Temple Israel Senior Rabbi Marcia A. Zimmerman said she had been inundated with messages expressing dismay at Omar’s comments.
“The anti-Semitic trope used yesterday, when combined with her previous tweets, makes our community feel vulnerable. With the rise of anti-Semitism in recent years, we feel that this type of rhetoric only adds fuel to the fire,” the letter read. “While [Omar] has made a statement apologizing for her words, we at Temple Israel…call on her to speak with our community face-to-face.”
Speaking to the Star Tribune earlier on Monday, Zimmerman added, “The community is upset…. We can have disagreements about a lot of sensitive issues. Discourse shouldn’t descend into stereotyping.”
Other Jewish leaders within the 5th District were more forgiving. Jewish Community Action, a Minnesota-based activist group, released a more measured statement that “recogniz[ed] that many things deserve a longer conversation then the 280 characters Twitter affords.”
“It’s not anti-Semitic to point out that money influences our politics — that’s just a fact,” the group said in a statement. “It’s also true the myth of ‘Jewish Money’ has been used for centuries as a weapon against Jewish communities. It’s incumbent that we, as progressives, are aware of this history.”
Rabbi Michael Adam Latz of Minneapolis’ Shir Tikvah synagogue also saw the incident as an opportunity to improve inter-faith dialogue. “I accept the congresswoman’s apology and I commit to work together with her to address hatred in every form,” he told ThinkProgress. “[Be it] anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, racism, sexism, homophobia — in Minnesota and across the globe.”