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August 24, 2020 4:28 am

Ilhan Omar May Have Won, but the Pro-Israel Community Stood Strong

avatar by Jeff Mendelsohn


Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) in 2016. Photo: Lorie Shaull via Flickr.

One takeaway from the recent Democratic primary in Minnesota is that the pro-Israel community won’t stand idly by when a member of Congress actively seeks to undermine America’s close relationship with its democratic ally.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the most vocal detractors of the US-Israel relationship, faced the stiffest challenge of her career in this month’s Democratic primary. Pro-Israel groups and grassroots donors brought an enormous amount of money and issue advocacy to the effort to unseat Omar, sending a clear message that support for America’s alliance with Israel runs deep and broad.

Antone Melton-Meaux, a rather unknown candidate, took on a very well-known incumbent congresswoman, ran an impressive campaign, and made inroads that no one expected. Melton-Meaux’s campaign was rooted in building alliances and delivering results. While not at the core of his platform, he made clear that he believed in the value of America’s alliance with Israel. His decision to challenge Rep. Omar, and his message of unity, attracted support from the pro-Israel community.

While he came up short in the primary, he received more votes than Rep. Omar did in her 2018 primary, and nearly as many votes as Senator Bernie Sanders received in the district during the 2020 presidential primary, which he won. Melton-Meaux kept Rep. Omar below 60% of the vote, a particularly impressive feat contrasted with the vote shares received by Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) (66%) or Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (72%).

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The pro-Israel community saw this race as a critical moment to fight back against Rep. Omar’s dangerous foreign policy positions and the antisemitism she has repeatedly displayed.

In the first year of her first term, Representative Omar made comments that invoked antisemitic tropes, prompting strong rebukes from her Congressional colleagues. She promoted foreign policy positions that would threaten America’s national security and our alliance with Israel. She advocated cutting military assistance funding for Israel, even while it was being attacked by neighboring terrorist groups. She called for lifting sanctions on Iran, while championing legislation to embolden activists to place sanctions on Israel. She’s endorsed the harmful Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, whose goal, according to its founders and leaders, is the elimination of the Jewish state of Israel.

These negative policies affect the safety and security of all Americans, and undermine our country’s global leadership, which is particularly troubling given her position on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Thousands of grassroots donors in the district and across the country activated to support Melton-Meaux. While a lot of money came from outside, the grassroots enthusiasm was clearly demonstrated in local fundraising totals as well: Melton-Meaux’s campaign raised $237,000 from inside Minnesota’s fifth district during the second quarter of 2020 — nearly 30 times the amount that Rep. Omar raised in her home district during the same time period.

These resources helped Melton-Meaux build critical momentum, ultimately putting Rep. Omar on the defensive. In the final month of the campaign, Omar was forced to go negative on her challenger and spent nearly her entire $4 million war chest.

Melton-Meaux may not have won a seat in Congress, but the pro-Israel community that supported him sent a very clear message that being an outspoken anti-Israel legislator will not be cost-free politically. Thousands of grassroots donors and activists across the country showed their conviction and willingness to fight back. Their efforts are not just about one race — they are about fighting for the future of the US-Israel relationship. As we head into November, they will continue to be a serious force in important elections.

Jeff Mendelsohn is the Executive Director of Pro-Israel America.

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