Omar divides Democrats with controversial comments

Lily Jones, editor-in-chief

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Minnesota’s own Ilhan Omar was pushed into the spotlight last September after becoming one of the first two Muslim representatives ever elected to the House of Representatives. Omar was previously known for becoming the first ever Somali-American to hold statewide office in Minnesota. Now, Omar is making news headlines for unintentionally dividing the Democratic Party over what some deemed to be controversial remarks about Israel.

Last month, Omar was pushed into the spotlight after tweeting that American political leaders’ support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins,” a criticism of lobbying groups. The tweet was interpreted by many as subscribing to offensive anti-Semitic tropes depicting Jewish people as greedy.

Though she issued an apology for this tweet, she then stirred up controversy again by saying in a speech from February 2019, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” This again brought about backlash from her own party and caused House Democrats to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that reads as a clear rebuke of Omar. The resolution criticized the “insidious, bigoted history” of “accusations of dual loyalty.”

Omar’s remarks represent a deviation from the strict pro-Israel stance that Democrats have stuck to for years, and the backlash from her own party shows how party leaders are quick to shame and condemn one of their own rising stars to preserve this stance.

The tensions reached a boiling point when President Trump tweeted a video of Omar insinuating that she did not care about 9/11. This came after a speech re-emerged in which she criticized the use of 9/11 as a cudgel against Muslim Americans. In that speech she said “some people did something” in reference to the 9/11 attacks, but many argued this sentence was taken out of context. The tweet raised more backlash after a Trump supporter was caught plotting an attack against Omar, incited by the President’s comments. Trump’s attack received unequivocal condemnation from Democrats and some prominent Republicans, and served as a litmus test for 2020 candidates to test their willingness to speak out against Trump. Most of the candidates, including Senator Cory Booker, Senator Elizabeth Warren, former House Representative Beto O’Rourke, and Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted that they #standwithIlhan and condemned Trump’s tweet, all without responding to Omar’s initial comments.

Because of Omar’s race, gender, and religion, many of her supporters blame much of this controversy on her party using Omar as a scapegoat. Her opposition, on the other hand, argues that the condemnation is deserved and not because of her minority status in the House. Either way, the series of controversies represents the sensitivity of Israel/Palestine policies and the increasingly fragmented Democratic party split between “blue wave” newcomers and veteran leaders.