Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (born October 4, 1982) is an American politician serving as the U.S. Representative for Minnesota's 5th congressional district since 2019. The district includes all of Minneapolis and some of its suburbs.
In February 2019, Omar questioned whether Elliott Abrams, whom Trump appointed as Special Representative for Venezuela in January 2019, was the correct choice given his past support of right-wing authoritarian regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala, his initial doubts about the number of reported deaths in the El Mozote massacre in 1982, and his two 1991 misdemeanor convictions for withholding information from Congress about the Iran–Contra affair, for which he was later pardoned by George H. W. Bush.
Omar was born in Mogadishu on October 4, 1982, and spent her early years in Baidoa, Somalia. She was the youngest of seven siblings, including Sahra Noor. Her father Nur Omar Mohamed, an ethnic Somali from the Majeerteen clan of Northeastern Somalia, worked as a teacher trainer. Her mother, Fadhuma Abukar Haji Hussein, a Benadiri (a community of partial Yemeni descent), died when Ilhan was two. She was raised by her father and grandfather thereafter. Her grandfather Abukar was the director of Somalia's National Marine Transport and some of Omar's uncles and aunts also worked as civil servants and educators. She and her family fled Somalia to escape the war and spent four years in a Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa County, Kenya, near the Somali border.
After first arriving in New York in 1992, Omar's family finally secured asylum in the U.S. in 1995 and lived for a time in Arlington, Virginia, before moving to and settling in Minneapolis, where her father worked first as a taxi driver and later for the post office. Her father and grandfather emphasized the importance of democracy during her upbringing, and at age 14 she accompanied her grandfather to caucus meetings, serving as his interpreter. She has spoken about school bullying she endured during her time in Virginia, stimulated by her distinctive Somali appearance and wearing of the hijab. She recalls gum being pressed into her hijab, being pushed down stairs, and physical taunts while she was changing for gym class. Omar remembers her father's reaction to these incidents: "They are doing something to you because they feel threatened in some way by your existence." Omar became a U.S. citizen in 2000 when she was 17 years old.
On April 11, 2019, the front page of the New York Post carried an image of the World Trade Center burning following the September 11 terrorist attacks and a quotation from a speech Omar gave the previous month. The headline read, "REP. ILHAN OMAR: 9/11 WAS 'SOME PEOPLE DID SOMETHING'", and a caption underneath added, "Here's your something ... 2,977 people dead by terrorism." The Post was quoting a speech Omar had given at a recent Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR) meeting. In the speech Omar said, "CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us [Muslims in the U.S.] were starting to lose access to our civil liberties." (CAIR was founded in 1994, but many new members joined after the 9/11 attacks in 2001.)
In 2002, Omar became engaged to Ahmed Abdisalan Hirsi (né Aden). The couple applied for a marriage license, but the application was not finalized. They did, however, have a faith-based marriage, and had two children together before separating in 2008. The next year, Omar married Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, a British citizen. In 2011, she and Elmi had a faith-based divorce, and that year she reconciled with Hirsi, with whom she had a third child in 2012. In 2017, Elmi and Omar were legally divorced, and in 2018 Omar and Hirsi were legally married. They and their three children live in Minneapolis. Her daughter, Isra Hirsi, is one of the three principal organizers of the school strike for climate in the US.
Omar attended Edison High School and volunteered there as a student organizer. She graduated from North Dakota State University with a bachelor's degree, majoring in political science and international studies in 2011. Omar was a Policy Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Omar began her professional career as a community nutrition educator at the University of Minnesota, working in that capacity from 2006 to 2009 in the Greater Minneapolis–Saint Paul area. In 2012, she served as campaign manager for Kari Dziedzic's reelection campaign for the Minnesota State Senate. Between 2012 and 2013, she was a child nutrition outreach coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Education.
In 2013, Omar managed Andrew Johnson's campaign for Minneapolis City Council. After Johnson was elected, she served as his Senior Policy Aide from 2013 to 2015. During a contentious precinct caucus that turned violent in February 2014, she was attacked by five people and was injured. According to MinnPost, the day before the caucus, Minneapolis city councilmember Abdi Warsame had told Johnson to warn Omar not to attend the meeting.
In 2014, Omar was named a rising star in the DFL Women's Hall of Fame. She received the 2015 Community Leadership Award from Mshale, an African immigrant media outlet based in Minneapolis. The prize is awarded annually on a readership basis.
As of September 2015, Omar was the Director of Policy Initiatives of the Women Organizing Women Network, advocating for women from East Africa to take on civic and political leadership roles. In September 2018, Jeff Cirillo of Roll Call called her a "progressive rising star."
In 2016, Omar ran on the Democratic–Farmer–Labor (DFL) ticket for the Minnesota House of Representatives in District 60B, which includes part of northeast Minneapolis. On August 9, Omar defeated Mohamud Noor and incumbent Phyllis Kahn in the DFL primary. Her chief opponent in the general election was Republican nominee Abdimalik Askar, another activist in the Somali American community. In late August, Askar announced his withdrawal from the campaign. In November Omar won the general election, becoming the first Somali American legislator in the United States. Her term began on January 3, 2017.
In August 2019, Omar and Representative Rashida Tlaib were banned from entering Israel, a reversal from the July 2019 statement by Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer that "any member of Congress" would be allowed in. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attributed the ban to Israeli law preventing the entry of people who call for a boycott of Israel (as Omar and Tlaib had done with their support for BDS). Netanyahu also cited Omar and Tlaib listing their destination as Palestine instead of Israel, claiming he thus viewed their visit as an attempt to "hurt Israel and increase its unrest". Netanyahu also said that Omar and Tlaib did not plan on visiting or meeting with any Israeli officials from the government or the opposition, and additionally accused Miftah, the sponsor of Omar's trip, of having members who support terrorism against Israel (in 2016, Israel approved a visit by five U.S. Representatives to Israel that Miftah co-sponsored, but that was before Israel enacted its anti-BDS law ). Less than two hours before the ban, President Trump tweeted that Israel allowing the visit would "show great weakness" when Omar and Tlaib "hate Israel & all Jewish people". Omar said that Netanyahu had caved to Trump's demand and that "Trump's Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing". She responded to Netanyahu that she had intended to meet members of Israel's legislative Knesset and Israeli security officials. Both Democratic and Republican legislators criticized the ban and requested that Israel rescind it. AIPAC released a statement saying that it disagreed with Israel's move and that Omar and Tlaib should have been allowed to "experience Israel firsthand", while the head of the American Jewish Committee put out a statement agreeing with AIPAC on the matter. Jewish Democratic representative Max Rose also criticized the move to ban Omar, while stating that Omar and Tlaib do not speak for the Democratic party.
In 2017, Time magazine named Omar among its "Firsts: Women who are changing the world," a special report on 46 women who broke barriers in their respective disciplines, and featured her on the cover of its September 18 issue. Her family was named one of the "five families who are changing the world as we know it" by Vogue in their February 2018 issue featuring photographs by Annie Leibovitz.
In 2018, Omar came under criticism for statements she made about Israel before she was in the Minnesota legislature. In a 2012 tweet, she wrote, "Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel." The comment, particularly the notion that Israel had "hypnotized the world," was criticized as drawing on anti-Semitic tropes. The New York Times columnist Bari Weiss wrote that Omar's statement tied into a millennia-old "conspiracy theory of the Jew as the hypnotic conspirator." When asked in an interview how she would respond to American Jews who found the remark offensive, Omar replied, "I don't know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War and I'm clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war." After reading Weiss's commentary, Omar apologized for not "disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used."
In 2018, Omar was featured in the video for Maroon 5's "Girls Like You."
In 2018, Republican state representative Steve Drazkowski publicly accused Omar of campaign finance violations, claiming that she used campaign funds to pay a divorce lawyer, and that her acceptance of speaking fees from public colleges violated Minnesota House rules. Omar responded that the attorney's fees were not personal but campaign-related; she offered to return the speaking fees. Drazkowski later accused Omar of improperly using campaign funds for personal travel to Estonia and locations in the U.S.
Omar was endorsed in 2018 by the Human Rights Campaign, a major LGBT civil rights advocacy group. In response to the endorsement, Omar stated, "I will fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in Washington D.C."
Omar's campaign website states, "The capitalist system has led to a concentration of wealth in a small handful of elites while working people suffer." According to a campaign staffer in 2018, Omar identifies as a democratic socialist. But unlike Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, who were also elected to Congress in 2018, Omar was neither a member of nor endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America. She does not define herself as socialist, though she has indicated support for socialist ideals.
On June 5, 2018, Omar filed to run for the United States House of Representatives from Minnesota's 5th congressional district after six-term incumbent Keith Ellison announced he would not seek reelection to that office. On June 17, she was endorsed by the Minnesota Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party after two rounds of voting. Omar won the August 14 primary with 48.2% of the vote. The 5th district is the most Democratic district in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest, (it has a Cook Partisan Voting Index of D+26) and the DFL has held it without interruption since 1963. She faced health care worker and conservative activist Jennifer Zielinski in the November 6 general election and won with 78.0% of the vote, becoming the first Somali American elected to the U.S. Congress, the first woman of color to serve as a U.S. Representative from Minnesota, and (alongside former Michigan state representative Rashida Tlaib) one of the first Muslim women elected to the Congress.
Omar has criticized Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses and the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. In October 2018, she tweeted: "The Saudi government might have been strategic at covering up the daily atrocities carried out against minorities, women, activists and even the #YemenGenocide, but the murder of#JamalKhashoggi should be the last evil act they are allowed to commit." She also called for a boycott of Saudi Arabia's regime, tweeting: "#BDSSaudi." The Saudi Arabian government responded by having dozens of anonymous Twitter troll accounts it controlled post tweets critical of Omar.
In 2019, Omar signed a letter led by Representative Ro Khanna and Senator Rand Paul to President Trump asserting that it is "long past time to rein in the use of force that goes beyond congressional authorization" and that they hoped this would "serve as a model for ending hostilities in the future—in particular, as you and your administration seek a political solution to our involvement in Afghanistan.”
In January 2019, amid the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis, Omar joined Democrats Ro Khanna and Tulsi Gabbard in denouncing the Trump administration's decision to recognize Juan Guaidó, the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, as Venezuela's interim president. She described Trump's action as a "U.S. backed coup" to "install a far right opposition" and said that the U.S. should not "hand pick" foreign leaders and should support "Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican's efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue."
In February 2019, the FBI arrested United States Coast Guard Lieutenant Christopher Hasson, who was allegedly plotting to assassinate various journalists and political figures in the United States, including Omar. According to prosecutors, Hasson is a self-described "long time White Nationalist" and former skinhead who wanted to use violence to "establish a white homeland." Prosecutors also alleged that Hasson was in contact with an American neo-Nazi leader, stockpiled weapons, and compiled a hit list.
In an exchange with the journalist Glenn Greenwald in February 2019, Omar tweeted, "It's all about the Benjamins baby" in reference to American politicians' support for Israel and invoked the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). A number of Democratic leaders—including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn—condemned the tweet, which was interpreted as implying that money was fueling American politicians' support of Israel. The Democratic House leadership released a statement accusing Omar of "engaging in deeply offensive anti-Semitic tropes." The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) also denounced her statements. Omar issued an apology the next day, saying, "I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes," and adding, "I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry."
On or before February 22, 2019, "Assassinate Ilhan Omar" was graffitied in a Rogers, Minnesota Holiday gas station restroom, prompting an FBI investigation.
On February 27, 2019, Omar spoke at a bookstore and said of her critics: "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country." The statements were quickly criticized as allegedly drawing on anti-Semitic tropes of dual loyalty. House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel said it was "deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens" and asked Omar to retract her statement. House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Nita Lowey also called for an apology and criticized the statements in a March 3 tweet, which led to an online exchange between the two. In response, Omar reaffirmed her remarks, insisting that she "should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee." Omar said she was simply criticizing Israel, drawing a distinction between criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu and being anti-Semitic. Omar's spokesman, Jeremy Slevin, said Omar was speaking out about "the undue influence of lobbying groups for foreign interests."
On March 1, 2019, the West Virginia Republican Party held "WV GOP Day," an event to celebrate the Republican Party, at the West Virginia Capitol. An exhibitor, not associated with the GOP, displayed a poster at the event falsely connecting Omar to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, along with Islamophobic flyers. State delegate Mike Pushkin, in attendance at the event, said that no Republican delegates condemned the poster. The poster was condemned the following day by the WV GOP party, which said, "The West Virginia Republican Party does not approve, condone, or support hate speech." Omar pointed to the poster as an example of why she is targeted with violence, also citing white nationalist domestic terrorist Christopher Hasson placing her on his hit list and "Assassinate Ilhan Omar" being written in a Minnesota gas station.
In March 2019, Omar addressed a rally in support of a Minnesota bill that would ban gay conversion therapy in the state. She co-sponsored a similar bill when she was a member of the Minnesota House. In May 2019, Omar introduced legislation that would sanction Brunei over a recently introduced law that would make homosexual sex and adultery punishable by death.
Omar has said she is in favor of the abolition of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. She supports prosecuting federal officials who have been accused of physical and sexual assault of people in their detention. She supports the protection of sanctuary cities and a path to permanent status for DREAMers and their families. She opposes efforts to seal the border, calling Donald Trump's border wall plan "racist and sinful." In March 2019, Politico reported that Omar criticized Barack Obama's "caging of kids" along the Mexican border. Omar accused Politico of distorting her comments and said that she had been "saying how [President] Trump is different from Obama, and why we should focus on policy not politics," adding, "One is human, the other is really not."
In April 2019, Omar said that she had received more death threats after President Trump made comments about her and 9/11, "many directly referencing or replying to the president's video". In August 2019, Omar published an anonymous threat she had received of being shot at the Minnesota State Fair, saying that such threats were why she now had security protection. In September 2019 she asserted Trump was putting her life in danger by retweeting a tweet falsely claiming she had "partied on the anniversary of 9/11."
On April 7, 2019, Patrick Carlineo Jr., was arrested for threatening to assault and murder Omar in a phone call to her office. He reportedly told investigators that he supported the President and did not want Muslims in the government. In May 2019, Carlineo was released from custody and placed on house arrest.
In May 2019, Omar said in an interview on Democracy Now! that U.S. foreign policy and economic sanctions are aimed at regime change and have contributed to the "devastation in Venezuela."
On May 20, 2019, protesters gathered in Times Square in New York City to call for Omar's removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “In my lifetime, I cannot think of any other politician who presents a bigger threat to the alliance between the US and Israel and to America’s Jews,” "Ilhan Must Go" founder and rally organizer Joe Diamond told The Jerusalem Post ahead of the protest. Across the street, a smaller group of counter-protesters organized by progressive Jewish organization IfNotNow supported Omar; "I’m just sick and tired of seeing this one part of the Jewish community try to silence those who criticize Israel,” one said.
In June 2019, Minnesota campaign finance officials ruled that Omar had to pay back $3,500 that she had spent on out-of-state travel and tax filing in violation of state law. She was also ordered to pay a $500 fine.
In June 2019, Omar was one of four Democratic representatives to vote against the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Humanitarian Assistance and Security at the Southern Border Act, a $4.5 billion border funding bill that required Customs and Border Protection to enact health standards for individuals in custody such as standards for "medical emergencies; nutrition, hygiene, and facilities; and personnel training." "Throwing more money at the very organizations committing human rights abuses—and the very Administration directing these human rights abuses—is not a solution. This is a humanitarian crisis ... inflicted by our own leadership," she said.
Omar supports broader access to student loan forgiveness programs as well as free tuition for college students whose family income is below $125,000. Omar supports Bernie Sanders's plan to eliminate all $1.6 trillion in outstanding student debt, funded by an 0.5% tax on stock transactions and an 0.1% tax on bond transactions. She will introduce a companion bill in the House of Representatives. In June 2019, Omar and Senator Tina Smith (D-MN) introduced the bill No Shame at School to end marking of and punishments for students with school meal debts.
Her other media appearances include the press conference in the U.S. Capitol of the four congresswomen named in the controversial presidential social media posting of July 2019 and a June 13, 2019, interview on Al-Jazeera.
Brian Stelter of CNN Business found that from January to July 2019 Omar had around twice as many mentions on Fox News as on CNN and MSNBC, and about six times the coverage of James Clyburn, a Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. A CBS News and YouGov poll of almost 2,100 American adults conducted from July 17 to 19 found that Republican respondents were more aware of Omar than Democratic respondents. Omar has very unfavorable ratings among Republican respondents and favorable ratings among Democratic respondents. The same phenomenon occurred for the other three members of the Squad of congresswomen. After her election, the ban on head coverings in the U.S. House was modified, and Omar became the first woman to wear a hijab on the House floor.
In July 2019, Omar introduced a resolution co-sponsored by Rashida Tlaib and Representative from Georgia John Lewis, stating "all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution". The resolution "opposes unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad", and it "urges Congress, States, and civil rights leaders from all communities to endeavor to preserve the freedom of advocacy for all by opposing anti-boycott resolutions and legislation". In that same month, Omar was one of seventeen Congress members who voted against a House resolution condemning the BDS movement.
On July 14, 2019, Trump tweeted that four Democratic members of Congress—Omar and three other women of color who were born in the United States—should "go back" to the "places from which they came." In response, Omar said Trump was "stoking white nationalism" because he was "angry that people like us are serving in Congress and fighting against your hate-filled agenda." Two days later the House of Representatives voted 240–187 to condemn Trump's "racist comments". On July 17, it was reported that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission lists the phrase "Go back to where you came from" as an example of "harassment based on national origin".
In September 2019, Omar condemned Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to annex the eastern portion of the occupied West Bank known as the Jordan Valley. Omar said Israelis should not vote for Netanyahu in the September 2019 Israeli legislative election.
On October 7, 2019, Omar filed for divorce from Hirsi, citing an "irretrievable breakdown" of the marriage.