Rep. Ilhan Omar has been a member of Congress for less than three months, but she probably already has the highest national profile of Minnesota’s delegation. This is not to her benefit, nor to the state’s.
Part of Omar’s notoriety is who she is — one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, and the first to wear religious headcovering on the House floor. This makes her different, and to some it makes her a threat. A conservative group this month posted at the state Capitol in West Virginia an image of her in front of the burning twin towers during the 9/11 attacks. That depiction was quickly condemned by legislators of both parties.
But a more troubling part of her notoriety comes from how she criticizes the United States’ support of Israel. She has repeatedly trotted out anti-Semitic tropes and questioned the loyalty of fellow legislators.
Just as it is repugnant to suggest Omar is connected to al-Qaida, it is repugnant for her to claim that those who disagree with her on Israel are doing so for money or out of allegiance to a foreign government.
The controversy over Omar has, it appears, been something of a revelation to the House Democrats’ leadership, which has been taken aback by how displeased many members of the caucus are with this nation’s reflexive support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu’s policies regarding the Palestinians.
Polling indicates that support of Israel has dipped sharply in recent years among Democrats, and several of the party’s leading presidential hopefuls have defended Omar’s basic position on Israel.
But it is certainly possible to criticize our government’s support of Israel without indulging in the kind of rhetoric Omar has employed. One instance could be charitably shrugged off as an inartful moment, but that’s not the case here.
Omar won the DFL primary for the open 5th District seat with almost 50 percent of the vote in a six-way race last year. She is the incumbent in a district in which the Republican Party has little presence and less chance. She can, at least in theory, be a congresswoman as long as she wants, and is young enough (37) to build up serious seniority.
But this kind of self-inflicted controversy makes it more likely that she will face a primary opponent. She would do well to focus her criticism on policies rather than personalities.