Far from Washington, Rep. Omars constituents Israel controversy in another light


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By Daniel Arkin

MINNEAPOLIS – Rep. Ilhan Omar's comments on Israel have consumed Washington. But here in Minnesota's various 5th congressional district, a progressive pillar that gave Omar a decisive victory in the mid-term mid-November, there has been far less fierce.

In interviews here, including with residents who are Jewish and Muslim, few of Omar's board members stated any anger at the legislature, even though they found the remarks uneasy. A Jewish leader said she would be open to good faith for foreign policy debate.

To the head of the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center, a large mosque 10 miles south of this city, the furor is flooded.

"Anti-Semitism is genuine in this country," Mohamed Omar, who is not related to the freshman Democrat, said in an interview in a private investigation when children nearby rushed to Friday afternoon prayers. But the controversy, he said, is a "distraction".

Mohamed Omar, CEO of Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center, talks about the controversy surrounding Rep. Ilhan Omar in Bloomington, Minnesota, March 8, 2019.Caroline Yang for NBC News

In the country's capital, Ilhan Omar drew an intense setback for a tweet that suggested US support for Israel "all about Benjamin's babies" and a note that pro-Israel activists were pushing for "loyalty to a foreign country." She was accused by some lawmakers and prominent Jewish groups of anti-Semitism and played toxic anti-Jewish stereotypes.

In response last week, the House of Representatives was overwhelming approved a decision condemns all hate even though the measure did not hang her out. Omar, for her side, has excused to suggest that America's relationship with Israel is driven by money from AIPAC, a prominent pro-Israel lobby group.

Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman of the Israel Temple, a reform Jewish congregation, the oldest synagogue in this city, said many members of his community have called her in the last month to say they were concerned about Omar's comments.

"I don't know the intention, but I know the effect. The words have been vulnerable," Zimmerman said in the quiet lobby of the 141-year-old temple surrounded by 12 floor-to-ceiling windows symbolizing Torah's 12 tribes in Israel. She added that the comments are particularly problematic among a latest spike in anti-Semitic events nationwide.

Yet Zimmerman said she is open to various opinions on Israeli policies and the Israeli government.

"If she wants a conversation about lobbyists and money, let's have that conversation," Zimmerman said. "If she wants a conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, let's have that conversation."

But the rabbi added: "In my heart, tweets are not the way you communicate complex, complicated issues when you are a member of Congress."

The atmosphere at home

Minnesota has the largest Somali-US community in the United States – about 70,000 people, according to a census bureau estimate – and a robust Somali community reside in Omar's district covering Minneapolis and some of its suburbs. The area is full of immigrants like Omar, a refugee who fled Somali civil war with his family and applied for asylum in the United States in 1995.

Her district is also reliably blue. Hillary Clinton got it 73 percent of the vote here in 2016, and Omar took close to 80 percent In November. She became one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress, where he was previously the owner of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim man.

Anab Ibrahim, the owner of a women's boutique in the village market, a busy Somali shopping mall where women admire colorful dresses and men in line with haircuts, said she was "very happy" about Omar's storyline and believes that the guard is a "good worker "who will stop for low income people.

Anab Ibrahim, owner of a women's boutique and a Somali-American, in her shop on the village market.Daniel Arkin / NBC News

Ibrahim, 54, a Somali-American, was disturbed when she learned that a death threat against Omar had been scraped on a bathroom in Rogers, a town northwest of the Twin Cities.

"She said an apology," Ibrahim said, referring to Omar, "and I think it should be accepted."

Abdulahi Farah, 38, a Somali-American volunteer in the mosque, said that anti-Semitism is unacceptable, but added: "If anyone wants to criticize an entity – be it AIPAC or the Israeli government or national regulatory authority or Saudi government – what is the problem? "

But not all Muslims in the area were forgiving. Khalid Awda, 48, an Iraqi-American interpreter at the US Army from 2006 to 2012, including an annual stint attached to the Minnesota National Guard, said he perceived Omar's comments to be anti-Semitic.

"I feel ashamed," said Awda, who said he could not vote in November.

"She does not represent Islam. She just represents herself," Awda said, adding that he feared those who were offended by Omar's words would also find fault with his wife and daughter simply because, like the guard, they wear hijabs.

Two miles west of the Somali mall, young professionals threw coffee and had lunch at The Lynhall, a trendy restaurant where Omar had a meeting and greeting event during the campaign. Luke Shors, 42, an entrepreneur living in the district, said her language could have been over the top, but he was sympathetic to his foreign policy platform.

"I think there is value in having someone in the congress that can help give the Palestinian people a voice that historically has not had much political capital or representation," Shors said.

At Bordertown Coffee, a nonprofit cafe inside a former University of Minnesota fraternity house and adjacent to the campus Hillel center, Zeke Joubert said he was "not riled up" about comments.

"I feel like a citizen she represents, she encourages us to challenge and think about the way … our international policy works," says Joubert, a 34-year-old graduate student.

He said he believed that Parliament's resolution condemning all "hateful expressions of intolerance" was a "waste of time" which did nothing to counteract what he described as "the racism of matter", such as the Flint water crisis , Michigan.

Zeke Joubert, a graduate student at the University of Minnesota, at Bordertown Coffee on March 8, 2019.Caroline Yang for NBC News

"We will hold all responsible," said Rae Young, 22, a University of Minnesota, who was sitting in Bordertown with a copy of "Maus", a graphic novel about the Holocaust.

"If there are Jewish people in your community who think you are making anti-Semitic comments, then this is a problem," Young said. "But if someone accuses you of making anti-Semitic comments because they don't like you as a color wife, then it's also a problem."

& # 39; She looks different … differs differently & # 39;

The Minneapolis area is all too familiar with the consequences of racist and religious hatred. In August 2017, Dar Al-Farooq was an Islamic center bombed. The three men accused in the attack were members of one Illinois militia group who called themselves the white rabbits.

No one was killed, but the blast scattered windows and destroyed part of Imam's office, scary worshipers, and local religious leaders. The center's leaders repaired the physical damage, but trauma dwells.

"It's a bit like being in a dark room and someone can hit you at any time, but you don't know where it comes from," said Farah, volunteer at the mosque, who sits just outside Omar's Bloomington district. and count many of her components as members.

Hassan Jama, an imam who leads prayer services in Dar Al-Farooq and other mosques across the area, spent much of the fall campaigns for Omar and organized the campaign efforts.

Hassan Jama, CEO of the Islamic Association of North America, at the Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center in Minnesota on March 8, 2019.Caroline Yang for NBC News

Jama, who is also CEO of the Islamic Association of North America in Minneapolis, said he believes the "political climate" in the United States is Islamophobic and that his congresswoman is the target of so much scrutiny because "she is different" .

"She looks different, she speaks differently, she dresses differently and she worships differently," he told NBC News. "But fortunately she is in America and she has a voice and she serves the people who have chosen her."

He dismissed the revolt around Omar – "I don't think it's anti-Semitism. I don't think she hates Jews" – and said he knew about many Jewish people in the district that voted for her.

Mohamed Omar, the CEO of Dar Al-Farooq, has in recent days fought with Omar's comments and noted that she is hardly the country's main source of division.

"We have a US president … who normalizes people who literally include anti-Semitic behavior, people who chanting" Jews will not replace us & # 39; and he says there are good people on both sides & # 39; & # 39; Mohamed Omar said, referring to 2017 marches in Charlottesville, Virginia.

"Student Jewish people died in a synagogue," he added, referring to the recording on the synagogue tree in Pittsburgh in October, "and the country did not respond as if they were responding to Ilhan."