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Minnesota State Sen. Ron Latz On Meeting With Ilhan Omar


Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar has faced weeks of controversy surrounding her alleged anti-Semitic remarks. It led to a House vote on a resolution opposing hate that was viewed as an indirect rebuke of her controversial comments. Jewish leaders in Minnesota have met with Representative Omar when she ran for office to try to help her understand the history of anti-Semitic rhetoric and stereotypes. State Senator Ron Latz organized a meeting at his home between then-candidate Omar and a number of Jewish leaders from the state. And he joins us now from his district in Minnesota. Senator, thanks so much for being with us.

RON LATZ: Hi, Scott, nice to be with you.

SIMON: Why did you arrange this meeting? What did you want to get across?

LATZ: Well, we were hopeful as then-State Representative Omar was running for Congress that we could learn more about her approach to issues, about her background. We spent a couple of hours together in my home. She was very gracious about that, and we had, you know, an enlightening conversation with her. And we shared with her the history of the Jewish community in Minnesota, the history of anti-Semitism in Minnesota, which is quite lurid, and why it's so important for us to be able to have conversations with respectful language. And we were hoping that it would be reflected as she moved on.

SIMON: And that brings us to now. Do you believe that she is expressing herself differently now?

LATZ: Well, she isn't calling Israel evil, but she is still using language that is anti-Semitic. The impact that it has is devastating. It's inflammatory. And unfortunately, I think it just causes more conflict. It makes it harder to have the kinds of policy conversations that she claims she wants to have on these difficult and fraught topics.

SIMON: I'm sorry if this sounds naive, but why is a phrase like it's all about the Benjamins, baby, offensive to many Jews?

LATZ: Well, it feeds into the classic stereotype of Jews controlling the world with our money, working behind the scenes to buy control over politicians and government policies. Part of it was the way in which she communicated it, too. It was a provocative and glib way of doing it, and it would have been much, I think, far more acceptable to say we need to have a conversation about the influence generally of money in politics, the influence of lobbyists and politics. And let's have a conversation without using the inflammatory language about these things.

SIMON: So when Representative Omar tweeted anti-Semitism is real and I'm grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes, how do you react to that?

LATZ: Well, I'm grateful that she's saying that. Unfortunately, she keeps repeating the mistakes. So I'm troubled by what appears to be a pattern reflecting an attitude at least toward Israel, if not toward Jews, and doing so in a way that inflames religious conflict rather than promotes conversation.

SIMON: And do you consider yourself one of her allies right now?

LATZ: You know, I support some of the policy positions that she takes. I don't think I can consider myself a personal ally of hers at this point. You know, I tried to have a conversation by reaching out to her. Other members of the Jewish community have done the same. And to her credit, she has had meetings with Jewish leadership in Minnesota in the last month after some of these recent incidents arose. But I'm troubled enough about the pattern that she is displaying that I've got a difficult time saying that I'm an ally of hers at this point.

SIMON: State Senator Ron Latz of Minnesota, thanks so much for being with us.

LATZ: Thank you very much.

SIMON: And we contacted Congresswoman Omar's office for comment but got no response. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.