Someone, somewhere in America, is yelling about Ilhan Omar right now.
Because someone is always yelling about Ilhan Omar, and today it’s Congress.
Congress is set to vote on whether anti-Semitism is bad this week.
Anti-Semitism is bad. But this not where I thought we would be at this point in the legislative calendar or in the year 2019.
The resolution is an oblique dig at Omar, who has been Minneapolis’ congresswoman for two months now and still hasn’t figured out how to tell lobbyists to take a flying leap without making it sound like a hate crime.
Omar issued an apology last month after tweeting that American support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby” — a reference both to hundred-dollar bills and to one of the oldest, ugliest stereotypes around.
On the anti-Semitic checklist, “Jewish financiers control politics” is one notch away from “Jewish financiers control the weather” — a claim one Washington, D.C., councilman made last year, by the way.
You may have heard language like that from the people who complain about billionaire and Democratic political donor George Soros; or from footage of crowds marching with torches, chanting “Jews will not replace us”; or from the gunman who murdered the elderly at prayer in the Tree of Life synagogue.
“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” Ilhan said in a statement in February.
And then last week she turned around and told a crowd in a D.C. bookshop that supporters of Israel have an “allegiance to a foreign country.” Next thing you know, Congress was scheduling its second anti-Semitism-is-bad vote of the year.
It is incredibly difficult to write about Ilhan Omar without pausing every other paragraph to go on the other hand … .
Because on one hand, is Omar going to make this a monthly thing? Is she just going to blurt every thoughtless, bigoted, agenda-derailing thing that pops into her head and then conduct the Fifth District’s business in the middle of that toxic cloud? Good luck bringing home money to patch potholes after you just got into a Twitter slapfight with the chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.
On the other hand ... a lot of the people yelling about Ilhan Omar are nightmare garbage people.
Omar gets death threats. The FBI is looking into the “Assassinate Ilhan Omar” threat someone scrawled on a bathroom stall in Rogers this week. She was accused of anti-Semitism before she so much as set foot in Congress. A fight broke out in the West Virginia statehouse this week over a poster someone hung in the rotunda, linking Ilhan Omar — somehow — to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Other Minnesota politicians have taken on the pro-Israel lobby without it turning into a national incident. Next door in St. Paul, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum barred American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbyists from her office after they accused her of supporting “terrorists” when she balked at legislation that slashed humanitarian aid for Palestinians in 2006.
A dozen years on, McCollum’s still slugging it out with AIPAC. Last year she unsuccessfully pushed legislation that would have blocked Israel from using U.S. military aid for operations that lock up Palestinian kids — we’re talking kids who are 11, 12 years old here.
That bill might not get reintroduced this year. A lot of things might not happen while we stand around, yelling about Ilhan Omar.
“My Americanness is questioned by the President and the @GOP on a daily basis, yet my colleagues remain silent,” Rep. Omar lamented on Twitter, accurately. “I know what it means to be American and no one will ever tell me otherwise.”
Some of the criticism Omar gets is completely unfair. Some of it is richly deserved. All of it is tangled up in American politics, prejudice and pride.
Ilhan Omar is young and black and self-assured. She’s a woman and a Muslim and a refugee. She’s an immigrant in a hijab, taking your job.
She’s a dream candidate on paper.
There she is, smiling on the cover of Time, promising a political future that’s better, more inclusive, more welcoming, more interesting. Donations poured in to her campaign from across the country. Social media has been crowded with IStandWithIlhan hashtags all week.
To some, she’s a nightmare on paper.
There she is, on a poster in the rotunda of the West Virginia statehouse, her face superimposed against the twin towers collapsing in flames. The Muslim. The Other. Scaring West Virginia Republicans from a thousand miles away.
“‘Never forget’ — you said,” read the text on the poster, above a photo of Omar, who is in no way a dead Saudi hijacker. “I am the proof — you have.”
The House is scheduled to vote on its anti-Semitism-is-bad resolution this week. What happens after that is up to U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis.