Why I'm voting for Ilhan Omar in the DFL primary

The writer understands how some of Omar's statements about Israel hurt his fellow Jews. But that's not enough.

The writer understands how some of Omar's statements about Israel hurt his fellow Jews. But that's not enough. Associated Press

It comes down to this: Minneapolis’s Fifth District is one of the most progressive districts in America, which should push America toward ideas that broaden justice.

The Clinton years are over. The Obama years are over. Compromising right out of the gate was an understandable Democratic post-Reagan tactic, but those days are over. For example, why does DFL U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s challenger, Antone Melton-Meaux, support “Primary Care For All” when the most expensive specialty procedures are the ones that lead people to bankruptcy, or are flatly unavailable to many?

Obamacare went a long way on primary care; we must go further. Maybe Medicare for All isn’t your cup of tea, but we too often negotiate ourselves out of real change before we even sit across the table. I understand Third District Rep. Dean Phillips having to adopt a Melton-Meaux-like position, but voters of the Fifth don’t have to.

As a Jew, I understand the anger of many in my community over Rep. Omar’s statements and positions; however, I believe she is a much better, more consistent ally to the Fifth’s truly marginalized communities. I witnessed it in my work to help the Liberian community avoid deportation last year.

In 2020, Omar has raised money ($350,000 according to the campaign) for grassroots Black- and youth-led groups in the wake of George Floyd’s murder. Prior to this year, Melton-Meaux’s biggest public move was writing a 2015 op-ed tone-policing Black Lives Matter on a chant that wasn’t the movement’s focus but (unwittingly) buttressed Fox News framing.

For a long time, the ONLY foreign policy section on Antone’s website was about Israel, and he dared to send out literature criticizing Omar’s congressional trips to Africa, as if a congressperson didn’t have the right to go to the continent of her birth in the performance of her duties. As proud as I am of my Jewishness, I will NOT elevate my concerns over more marginalized groups; that is white privilege, and it is NOT allyship.

Omar is no anti-Semite, but has caused Jews I love needless pain with tweets like “all about the benjamins.” Unlike Melton-Meaux, however, she has spent political capital supporting legitimate Palestinian human rights (as Fourth District Rep. Betty McCollum has done to far less scorn).

I don’t blame good-hearted people who find her faults too much to bear.

Her campaign finances have been sloppy enough to give Republicans clean hits, and to any committed DFLer, that really sucks. As a former journalist, I find that her frequent stonewalling of the press (especially local) saps trust. You have to be tough to fight your way from a refugee camp to Congress in the face of Islamophobia and other Fox News bullshit, but Omar needs to listen to advisors who understand the difference between a troll and a reporter.

In two years, Omar will have more of a track record that will demonstrate whether she’s listened and grown. If there was an equally progressive candidate running this year, I might support them, but there is not.

Melton-Meaux’s slogan is “Focused on the Fifth” — but if you look at his big-dollar local supporters, they are from the Fifth that has always been focused on, whose salons have always been frequented, where bended knees are reflexively proffered. And if you look beyond the Fifth, those max donors include Donald Trump’s Mar-A-Lago cronies. And make no mistake; Trump will celebrate if Omar is defeated.

In the end, though, my vote is a positive one, honoring people truly at risk who have poured into the streets to hasten America’s endlessly overdue reckoning, demanding more than the arid comfort of conventional wisdom. 

David Brauer (@dbrauer) lives in Minneapolis.