Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN)

First-term congresswoman, Rep. Ilhan Omar draws ire, support for questioning US-Israel ties

5 mins read

Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) should be the face of the American Dream. She is an immigrant, African, woman, Muslim and outspoken. But, as much as she is celebrated, she is hated. As evidenced in the controversy surrounding her public questions around US support of Israel.

In a response to a tweet from Jewish journalist, Glenn Greenwald, who expressed alarm that people equated Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-MI) criticisms of Israel to white supremacists, on February 10, 2019, Omar satirically critiqued US-Israel relationship when she tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby ?.” She has since deleted the tweet referencing the the coveted 1990s hip hop song by Sean “P Diddy” Combs and his roster of Bad Boy Records artists.

Arlington, Virginia – January 10, 2019: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) speaking at the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), congressional reception for newly elected Congressional representatives.

Later, Omar questioned why she had to pledge allegiance to Israel as a US congressional office holder. When her comments began to circulate, old quotes disproving of Israel’s state-run policies that discriminate against Palestinians, the indigenous group of the land and now, ethnic majority-minority.

Replying to a Max Berger Twitter post critiquing Israeli claims to democracy, Omar wrote, “Israel is like the south before 1963: millions of people under Israeli control are denied the right to vote, speak freely or assemble because of their ethnicity. It’s a democracy for Jews only. That’s not a real democracy.” Berger is founder of, If Not Now, an organization of young American Jews campaigning to end Israeli occupation.

Lobby interests in politics

Pointing to a history of almost unwavering financial and military support of Israel via special interest pro-Israel lobby, American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Omar’s tweets triggered ongoing political, racial and religious tensions in the country.

Immediately, her comments faced backlash. Since, Omar has been a target of interesting bedfellows: Trump, Republicans, white-supremacists and some powerful anti-Semitic groups.

Critics of Omar, like House Majority Representative, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said that she continued a stereotype alleging Jews use money and power to influence policy, economy and political affairs.

From the outrage, there were calls for her removal of House appointments, such as the Foreign Affairs Committee. Even, President Donald Trump called for her resignation. “Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress,” he voiced during a White House Cabinet meeting. “And I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.”

In the West Virginia state house, West Virginia Republican Party committee displayed a poster insinuating Omar was a terrorist and linked to 9/11. The display caused a physical scuffle in the building and a resignation by a staffer who made anti-Muslim comments.

Following the uproar, Omar released an apology, but also called for the ability to dispute and question the government in public

Trump called her apology lame. She answered, “You have trafficked in hate your whole life—against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more.”

High costs of public office

Between the back-and-forth, Omar told of another side of the story. She has been the subject of vicious, ongoing attacks rooted in racism, misogyny and Islamophobia, since she took office in Minnesota, but most of her current detractors remain silent about the daily threats against her.

As much as Omar is a rock star, her story bears war scars. At 12, she came to the US from a Mambosa, Kenya refugee camp as a Somali fleeing her country’s Civil War. She is one of seven children, but her mother, Fadhuma Abukar Haji Hussein, died when she was two-years-old.

Twenty-three years later, she walks the halls of Congress as the first Somali-American. For Minnesota, Omar is the first Black woman elected into Congress. In January, she broke the mold at her swearing in, using a Qur’an instead of a bible. Next, she dismantled Congress’ 181-year ban on hats with her decision to wear a hijab, a head covering she wears as part of her Islamic faith.

Omar exuberates diversity and the progress of a country that once exclusive allowed rich, white, Christian, landowning men to vote and run for office. Most were slave owners, while all profited from the chattel system that became America’s financial bedrock to global dominance.

Omar, a mother of three, makes up a fresh[wo]men congressional group of 102 female office holders who are diverse and challenge the status quo in both parties. With her celebrity and push against the grain comes a toll. She receives death threats regularly. Last month, an Instagram post of a bathroom in Rogers, Minnesota showed the scawling of the message, “Assassinate Ilhan Omar.” Before that, a Nigerian cab driver, Uka Onuma, in Minnesota called she and her “filthy” and “ISIS.”

Perhaps, the silver lining to Omar’s hotbed of controversy is the passing of H.RES.183, a resolution condemning bigotry, discrimination, oppression, racism, and imputations of dual loyalty threaten American democracy. In the language, the bill includes its disapproval of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia and other forms of systemic prejudices.

After the passage, Omar, Tlaib, and Andre Carson (D-IN) issued, all Muslim House members, issued a joint statement:

Today is historic on many fronts. It’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation’s history. Anti-Muslim crimes have increased 99% from 2014-2016 and are still on the rise.

We are tremendously proud to be part of a body that has put forth a condemnation of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism, racism, and white supremacy. At a time when extremism is on the rise, we must explicitly denounce religious intolerance of all kinds and acknowledge the pain felt by all communities. Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress.

While Democrats unanimously voted for the bill, 23 Republicans rejected bill as “watered-down” legislature that needed to focus more on anti-Semitism. Following the resolutions approval, Trump called Democrats “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish.”

Kaia Shivers covers diaspora, news and features.

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