If there was one politician who comes off as a hero from all this Rep. Ilhan Omar mess, it is Mike Pushkin. He serves in the West Virginia House of Delegates, which is the equivalent of the Minnesota House.
Reading Pushkin’s biography shows he is not your normal politician. He is a former drug addict, a taxi driver by day, a local musician at night and a big fan of the Grateful Dead.
Pushkin is a liberal in a state not known for liberal politics, especially on the social side. Some 68 percent of West Virginians voted for President Donald Trump in 2016.
Pushkin did something amazing last week. He stood up for Omar, D-Minn. He was one of the lead delegates who denounced a flier being distributed at the West Virginia state capitol that linked Omar to the 9/11 attacks. It led to confrontations and the resignation of a Sergeant at Arms who stated that “all Muslims are terrorists.” Pushkin also refuted some Republicans who defended the flier as free speech.
Now, other Democratic delegates also denounced this hateful act. But there is something else about Pushkin. He is Jewish. Yet he defended the member of Congress who can’t seem to put her critical views about the pro-Israeli lobby group AIPAC or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or her support for the rights of Palestinian refugees into politically sensitive phrases.
Instead, Omar sounds like an anti-Semite who questions the loyalty of American Jews.
Pushkin did not care about any of that when he was defending Omar. He was more interested in defending her and Muslims across America against being seen as un-American and supporting terrorists. He was more interested in squashing hate and calling out people who dressed it up as “free speech.”
Pushkin said he could imagine a similar poster in “1933 Berlin” libeling someone like him. He admitted that he did not agree with “a lot of Omar’s politics” on Israel and the Middle East but has the “utmost respect” for her nonetheless.
In the process, he stood up for Americans who believe that everyone in America is welcome and tolerated.
Sadly, Omar does not seem to get it quite yet, as seen by her gaffes. But Pushkin does, as seen by his actions. He is the type of politician America deserves more of.
William Cory Labovitch is a political activist in South St. Paul.