The Somali-born Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar is one of the first Muslim women in Congress; she is also one of the most left-wing, and most anti-Israel members, of the House. Although Omar has written a memoir, and is also the subject of a documentary film, much of her past remains shrouded in confusion and uncertain information. Armin Rosen, in a thorough investigation of her story, notes, for instance, that it was widely reported in 2018 that Omar had lived in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya for four years; in fact she never lived there at all. Allegations that she married her brother to help him get a green card have neither been proved or refuted decisively. “The press,” Rosen writes, has demonstrated “an absence of interest in her biography, and even in her pre-congressional political career.”
As for Omar’s record on Israel, and her relationship with her district’s Jewish community, Rosen sums it up thus:
A pattern soon emerged when she began her term in Washington: Omar would make some controversial or insensitive statement about Israel. Then, Jewish leaders from across the communal spectrum would meet with Omar in an attempt to educate her about why her statement had been unconstructive or worse. Then, a few weeks later, she would say something else and the cycle would repeat.
As is so often the case, Omar pairs her hostility toward Israel with hostility toward America:
Omar writes in her memoir that she arrived in New York with her father, where she had a strongly negative first impression of the United States as grimy, graffiti-covered, and heartless. She recalls her disgust at length: “To be promised a utopia only to be brought to a city or town that might have a little less trash and crime and a few more buildings than where you came from is disorienting and disappointing.” In some ways America was even worse than where she’d come from: “When we lived in Somalia, in the big city, even next to the major outdoor market, I never saw a person who slept on the street while others just went about their day. That concept did not exist in my country’s communal society.”
In her memoir, Omar doesn’t consider the possibility that her failure to see or notice extreme poverty, which certainly existed in Mogadishu even before its descent into anarchy, was a function of her young age or her privileged, cloistered upbringing, rather than proof of the superior social solidarity, compared to the United States, of a Somalia on the brink of three decades of civil conflict.
Rosen also notes that there is much hostility toward Omar in her own Somali community in Minneapolis, where she was booed at a major event sponsored by that community:
Older Somalis often expressed a certain puzzlement at her focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a Western obsession that does not rank high among the community’s immediate concerns. “Among the Somalis nowadays I think many people understand this not as a religious but more of a political dispute between Arabs and Israelis,” Ahmednasir Abdullahi, a Nairobi lawyer and analyst, said in late 2019. “I’ve seen her district, it has a substantial number of Jews. Her adoption of Palestinians as a cause doesn’t make much sense for me, or I think for many Somalis.”
More about: Africa, American Muslims, American politics, Ilhan Omar, US-Israel relations