U.S. Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar this week reaffirmed her support for a pro-Palestinian movement to pressure Israel, rankling Jewish community leaders who say she contradicted remarks made at an August candidates forum.
Omar's office told the website MuslimGirl.com on Sunday that she supported the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel but expressed "reservations on the effectiveness of the movement in accomplishing a lasting solution." The Minnesota Democrat later reiterated her position in a series of text messages exchanged with a reporter for TC Jewfolk that were posted on its local news site.
Jewish community leaders previously expressed optimism after Omar criticized the BDS movement during an Aug. 6 Democratic candidates forum at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park — about a week before Omar defeated four other candidates in the party's primary. Omar said she supported a two-state solution in the Israel-Palestine conflict and that the BDS movement wasn't helpful in trying to achieve that goal. Pressed by moderator Mary Lahammer to specify "exactly where you stand on that," Omar replied that the BDS movement was "counteractive" because it stopped both sides from coming together for "a conversation about how that's going to be possible."
"I think that stops the dialogue and so I want to make sure we are furthering policies and advocating for things that gets people closer to having that conversation," Omar continued.
But on Monday, Omar told TC Jewfolk that her position on the BDS movement "has always been the same" and pointed to her vote as a state lawmaker against a House bill prohibiting the state from doing business with vendors participating in that movement.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas — one of the groups that sponsored the August forum — said the JCRC was "deeply disappointed by Omar's expression of support for the BDS movement."
"The BDS movement seeks to deny the Jewish people our right to self-determination and is indeed counteractive to a goal that both the JCRC and Rep. Omar support: a two-state solution that recognizes, in Rep. Omar's words: 'Israel's place in the Middle East and the Jewish people's rightful place in the region,' " said Hunegs, who added that the JCRC looked forward to "working and building dialogue" with Omar "on this mutual goal."
A spokeswoman for Omar on Tuesday forwarded follow-up questions to Omar, who was in Washington, D.C., for an orientation. Omar became the nation's first Somali-American member of Congress after her resounding victory last week in the Fifth District.
During her campaign, Omar met with members of the district's large Jewish population to address concerns over past statements about Israel. In a commonly referenced tweet from 2012, when the Israeli military carried out an aerial campaign against rocket attacks by Hamas, Omar wrote that Israel had "hypnotized the world" and made reference to its "evil doings."
In a recent interview with the Star Tribune, Omar characterized attention to her tweets about Israel as an effort to "stigmatize and shame me into saying something other than what I believed."