Jefferson Morley | March 5, 2019
Rep. Ilhan Omar on Sanctuary, Safety, and Anti-Semitism
Two weeks ago, Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted about the Israel lobby in a way that some construed as anti-Semitic. In reference to the powerful American-Israeli Political Action Committee, she tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins.”
On Wednesday night, the congresswoman from Minneapolis spoke to a standing room-only crowd at the Bus Boys & Poets cafe in Washington D.C. When asked about the anti-semitism charge, Omar explained herself at length, without apology or rancor.
Omar, who was born in Somalia and raised in Kenya and Minnesota, speaks in an odd but effective cadences. She combines bursts of gleeful enthusiasm with careful reflections expressed haltingly.
She told a funny story about when she was a kid watching congressional hearings on TV and screaming at the screen, “nobody is asking the right questions!” That was why, she explained slyly, she just had to grill the unpleasant Elliot Abrams.
On the issue of anti-semitism, Omar grew serious. She talked about how she listens and responds to her Jewish constituents and her Jewish friends. What she hears, she said, are stories of “safety and sanctuary.”
The frame of Omar’s narrative is not the ideological but personal. She empathized with that most human desire–for sanctuary and safety. She understood that Jews cared about Israel even though they didn’t live there. Her own kids, she said, cared about Somalia, even though they had never lived there.
Omar only asked that Palestinian voices for safety and sanctuary be heard too. And she wrapped up her thoughts with a neat point about what the charge of anti-semitism seems designed to do: end debate
Omar was thoughtful and firm, strong and sensitive. She acknowledged pain, and she showed some.
Even if you don’t like Omar’s leftist politics, give a listen. The idea that she has an animus against Jews doesn’t survive her four-minute sound bite.
Listen to the Rep. Omar talk here.