U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis found herself in hot water Friday, accused, again, of anti-Semitism for fresh remarks about American Jews who support Israel.
And she had just tried to put this behind her.
Over the past two weeks,Omar had several meetings in Minnesota with local Jewish leaders.
It was essentially part of a low-profile, not-on-Twitter, fence-mending tour following Omar’s remarks earlier in the month many saw as anti-Semitic and part of a pattern that dates back several years.
Then, on Thursday night, she said something publicly that many took as a statement that questioned the patriotism of American Jews.
Here’s what she said, during what was billed as a “progressive town hall” at a bookstore cafe in Washington, D.C., as reported by Jewish Insider, which covered the event:
“So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
A spokesman Friday said Omar remains contrite for her previous statements and her comments Thursday night were about the undue influence of lobbyists in politics.
But it’s the “allegiance to a foreign country” bit that sharply raised eyebrows.
For some Jews, it smacks of a longtime attack questioning their patriotism and attempting to marginalize Jews as not true patriots of America, or whatever country where they live. The disloyalty suggestion carries so much baggage that the Anti-Defamation League has a web page detailing its uses throughout history.
It really frosted Steve Hunegs.
As executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Center of Minnesota and the Dakotas, Hunegs was among those who had met with Omar and other Jewish leaders on her fence-mending tour.
In preparation for the Feb. 19 meeting, Hunegs brought a photograph of the grave of his cousin, Gerald “Sonny” Cohen. The grave is in the American military cemetery in Lorraine, France. Sonny Cohen died in 1944, fighting for America during World War II.
“I brought that photo to our meeting with Congresswoman Omar to illustrate the profound patriotism of Jewish Americans,” Hunegs said in a statement posted Friday on JCRC’s web page.
‘OUR COMMUNITY IS EXASPERATED’
The 5th Congressional District that Omar, a Somali-born Muslim, represents also includes one of the largest concentrations of Jews in the Upper Midwest.
Hunegs and other Jewish leaders have met and spoken with Omar — recently and before she was elected to Congress — in attempts to impress upon her that her language can be deeply offensive. The tension over U.S.-Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is likely to remain, Jewish figures have said. Omar is highly critical of Israel. But, they said, their hope is they have impressed upon her the difference between criticizing a government and demonizing a cultural and religious group.
Omar has appeared to respond, by apologizing on Twitter and stating her reasons for her recent fence-mending tour.
“It’s about … thinking through what it looks like to build a strong family that is able to withstand anti-Semitism, withstand Islamophobia, all the hate that we’ve collectively been fighting against,” Omar told the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune earlier this month in one of the few interviews she’s granted.
For Hunegs, she failed.
“Our community is exasperated by Rep. Omar’s unfulfilled promises to listen and learn from Jewish constituents while seemingly simultaneously finding another opportunity to make an anti-Semitic remark and insult our community,” he said. “The JCRC is supportive of a robust conversation about Israel’s policies, campaign finance reform, and other topics of national and international importance. However, our political discourse must quickly evolve to be able to hold these conversations without using age-old stereotypes about minority communities.”
Omar has declined several Pioneer Press interview requests.
On Friday, spokesman Jeremy Slevin implied her statements Thursday were being misinterpreted.
In an email, Slevin said: “At the event this week, Rep. Omar reiterated the remorse she feels for her comments last month — and the pain she knows they caused. As she said in her apology, we must distinguish between criticism of a particular faith and fair critiques of lobbying groups. She has consistently spoken out about the undue influence of lobbying groups for foreign interests of all kinds and her comments were about just that.”
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