As an American Jew, I Will Not Stand for the Scapegoating of Ilhan Omar | Opinion

With the passing of Representative John Lewis of Georgia, America has lost a man who personified "good trouble." Lewis was a national hero because he understood that being a moral leader meant being provocative—and effective—in the pursuit of justice.

Perhaps that's why Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who's running for re-election in a highly visible primary with national implications, so easily gets under the skin of President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans. Good trouble is what she's all about.

Republicans would love to see Omar lose her seat. Her effectiveness is not only a direct rebuke to those who reject progressive policies, but also a strong visual of a Black Muslim American woman in power.

Yet now, Trump and Republicans, in a panic about losing the November elections, are ramping up their attacks against Omar to mobilize their base. Her Blackness, her Muslim faith and her having been a refugee fit neatly into the president's longtime re-election strategy of division and fear.

"Why don't they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came," he tweeted in 2019, speaking of Omar and her fellow progressive Democratic congresswomen of color.

Omar is not, as her critics argue, the "divisive" one. Instead, she is the one being attacked for having the guts, like Lewis, to speak truth to power. Back in the 1960s, Lewis, too, was attacked for being "divisive"—a behavior that we now look back on with honor and respect.

So the choice is clear: One can either stand with Omar against these attacks or be an accomplice to them. As an American Jew, I have seen this playbook before. I will not accept the scapegoating of Omar. Scapegoating never ends well.

We must never forget that on Trump's watch, white supremacist terrorism is "on the rise and spreading." That's according to his own FBI. Take, for example, my hometown synagogue, Pittsburgh's Tree of Life, where my parents were praying the night before the massacre on October 27, 2018, the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history.

That mass shooting occurred within the climate of hate fostered by Trump that has vilified immigrants, Jews and refugees. Omar didn't enter that synagogue; a white supremacist did. Yet to this day, the president continues to use the rhetoric of white supremacists—and appears to be gunning for their vote.

In June, the president retweeted a video showing one of his supporters chanting "white power." Just a few days earlier, Facebook removed advertisements and posts from the Trump campaign that featured a symbol used by Nazis. For goodness sake, Trump won't even criticize the Confederate flag!

This is why we need strong, effective leaders like Omar in Congress.

Omar's work speaks for itself. As one of the newest members of Congress, she confronted Trump's point man on Venezuela, Elliot Abrams, for whitewashing a massacre of hundreds of civilians in El Salvador and lying to Congress. She made clear she was not afraid to challenge the establishment. Republicans know this fearlessness could lead the country toward a more progressive future—one that provides health care for all, advances racial justice and promotes economic fairness—so they vilify and scapegoat her.

I know what that feels like. We American Jews understand the targeting of "the other," whether the Jew, the immigrant, the homosexual or the disabled, as lesser or less deserving. "The other," it is thought, must be subjugated for the powerful to remain so. Omar's mere presence—let alone her powerful voice—threatens that political tactic and worldview.

Omar, therefore, doesn't just speak for herself. She also speaks for me, and for the growing resistance to white supremacy.

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar
U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democrat of Minnesota, speaks during a press conference on July 7 in St. Paul. Brandon Bell/Getty

In this moment of national change, when calls for racial justice echo across the country, it is the president and his allies who are out of step, not the other way around. Now is the moment Omar was made for. Our country needs leaders like her, who stand up to attempts to divide the American people and who force us to be honest. We cannot heal any other way.

It is a necessary honesty, one that John Lewis personified. Omar is another strong Black American who can help lead us in the fight to take our country back from the clutches of white supremacy.

That's why, as an American Jew, I believe that Ilhan Omar belongs right where she is—in Congress.

Joel Rubin was the Jewish outreach director for the Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign and is a former Obama administration deputy assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs. His Twitter handle is @JoelMartinRubin.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.