Among the new Members of the U.S. Congress elected on November 6 is one Ilhan Omar. Previously, she was a member of the Minnesota House of Representatives. She was the first Somali American legislator to hold elective office in the U.S. She is now the first Somali American in the U.S. House. She and Rashida Tlaib, who was elected to the House on the same day, are the first Muslim women in the U.S. Congress. Representing a district that includes Minneapolis and several smaller cities, Omar will succeed another Muslim, Keith Ellison, who left Congress in order to run for State Attorney General of Minnesota, a race that he, too, won.
Now 37 years old, Omar denied during her campaign – specifically, at an August debate at a synagogue – that she supports the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. This was not a minor question, since her district, the fifth, has a sizable Jewish population. It is also by far the most Democratic district in the state, and has not voted for a Republican since 1960.
Since her election, however, Omar has come out of the BDS closet. After the news came out, Avi Olitzsky, the rabbi who sponsored that August debate, expressed the hope that he could “have a dialogue with her” and thus clarify her stance. Ah, dialogue. Credulous persons who have had pleasant encounters with this or that individual Muslim are often shocked to find that that individual actually believes certain things that don’t seem terribly pleasant at all. Their initial response is often to assume that there has to be some kind of misunderstanding, because, after all, the Muslim in question seems so charming. Surely a brief friendly talk will clear it all up.
Such, alas, is the way in which many Westerners are forced to confront the largely dark reality of Islamic belief.
To be sure, it’s not as if Omar entirely hid her contempt for Israel during the election campaign. In July, Haaretz reported that she had called Israel’s government an “apartheid” regime. She had not explicitly given a thumbs-up to BDS, but she’d opposed a proposed state law banning BDS. In 2012, Omar wrote a tweet in which she expressed the hope that “Allah” would “awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
A halfway sensible observer might have guessed from all this that Omar is, indeed, a BDS advocate, but all too many voters – especially, perhaps, in places like Minnesota, which is known for its “niceness” – are eager to dismiss such suspicions as the product of subconscious Islamophobia, for, after all, such a lovely young woman could not possibly hold such ugly thoughts. Despite the evidence that Omar is, in fact, a nasty piece of work, the national media ran predictably glowing profiles of her, with a particularly hagiographic one appearing in The New Yorker. On Election Day, Omar won her House seat with a remarkable 78% of the vote.
This, then, is the new representative whom the voters of Minneapolis and environs have chosen to send to Washington, and will have to live with for the next two years. Perhaps her constituents can take comfort in the fact that, so far anyway, there is no sign that she is any more virulent an anti-Semite than Ellison, whose longtime ties with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, perhaps the nation’s most prominent Jew-hater, did not prevent him from being re-elected to Congress five times.