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Friday, December 1, 2023

Omar Draws Pro-Israel Democrat as an Opponent in Re-Election Bid

'She has frightened the Jewish community...'

(Headline USA) U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar got a prominent Democratic primary challenger Sunday when former Minneapolis City Council member Don Samuels announced he’ll try once again to unseat her after coming close in 2022.

Omar, a charter member of “the squad” of progressive House Democrats, won reelection twice despite making comments in her first term that were widely criticized for invoking antisemitic tropes and suggesting Jewish Americans have divided loyalties.

Omar — a Somali American and Muslim — has come under renewed fire for condemning the Israeli government’s handling of its war against Hamas.

“Our congresswoman has a predilection to divisiveness and conflict,” Samuels said in an interview with The Associated Press ahead of his official announcement Sunday morning on WCCO Radio.

The Jamaican-born Samuels still maintains that his narrow primary loss in 2022 showed Omar was beatable, and that he could have won if they had competed later in the general election, where Omar won 74% of the vote over a little-known Republican.

Jeremy Slevin, a spokesman for Omar, did not immediately return a phone message left Sunday seeking comment on Samuels’ announcement.

The war in the Middle East has already divided Democrats and upended the dynamics of some House primaries. Omar has been critical of Israel. Her focus has been the plight of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

It remains to be seen how potent an issue the war will be in an overwhelmingly Democratic district that includes Minneapolis and some suburbs. The district also has a large Somali Muslim population. And it includes St. Louis Park, which historically has been a center of Jewish life in Minnesota.

Samuels said he believes the war will be a big concern. He criticized Omar for voting against placing sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine but supporting sanctions against Israel, and for boycotting Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s speech to Congress in July.

“She has frightened the Jewish community,” Samuels said, adding that the community “understands that there is a latent and lurking antisemitic sentiment that always needs discouragement, and always in times of national crisis raises its ugly head.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been actively trying to recruit a credible challenger to Omar. That drew pushback from a strong supporter of Israel, House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, who issued a public show of support for Omar this summer.

A super PAC affiliated with AIPAC spent about $350,000 against Omar in 2022.

Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press

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