Omar's words sting at home, threatening to strain ties of Jewish and Somali Minnesotans

  • 03/11/2019
  • Press Corp
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In Minnesota's Twin Cities, Jews and Somali immigrants have been partners for decades.

When Somali refugees arrived in Minnesota, starting in 1993, Jewish leaders saw echoes of their forebears who faced virulent anti-Semitism as newcomers to the state more than a century before. The communities developed strong ties, joining to fight hunger and illiteracy and raising money for one another in response to discrimination and threats of violence.

Then came the election to Congress last year of Ilhan Omar, a Somali immigrant who spent four years in a refugee camp as a child and arrived in Minnesota as a teenager.

An outspoken critic of Israel, Omar has courted controversy with provocative remarks that some say invoke anti-Semitic stereotypes. The pattern has alarmed many Jews, and as Omar faced yet another firestorm last week, community leaders on both sides voiced pain and confusion, fearing that the comments could damage an alliance they have spent years trying to nurture.

Somali community activist Omar Jamal of St. Paul said he is in touch with local Jewish leaders about how the two sides can reaffirm their solidarity at a moment of crisis. He said that he supported Omar's congressional campaign but that her comments are "wrong, period."
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