Bankole: Omar, Tlaib should focus on their districts
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s story as a former Somali refugee is a movie waiting to hit the theaters and a book that should be written, because it is the quintessential American story which powerfully represents the possibilities this nation offers.
But Omar’s latest political skirmish, where she had to apologize profusely for comments she made on Twitter suggesting the American Israel Public Affairs Committee funds politicians to push pro-Israel policies, has nothing to do with the concerns of her constituents.
Not so much because of her strong views on the very complicated Israel-Palestinian question — which she has the right to have as a member of Congress — but because the Twitter war won’t help put food on the table for Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District members.
It won’t help bring down the unemployment numbers in that district, which, according to an analysis last year by Minnesota Public Radio, “has the highest poverty rate in the state at 15 percent, and the highest unemployment rate in the state at 3.7 percent.”
Omar has work to do to address some pressing economic challenges members of her constituency are facing. Adding gasoline to the fire that engulfs the Israel-Palestinian conflict won’t do much to help improve the living conditions of the people who sent her to Washington, D.C.
Here at home, the same goes for Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who succeeded John Conyers in the 13th Congressional District to become the nation’s first Palestinian American woman in Congress. Since she went on record to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, she and Omar are being painted by their critics as the political face of the anti-Israel movement, and among an emerging number of people in the political class opposed to pro-Israel issues.
While I doubt Tlaib, whose political career I have closely followed over the years, has an anti-Semitic bone in her body, she should focus more on the bread and butter issues in her district, which is one of the poorest in the nation. Yes, she’s registered a remarkable feat with her political win, which indicates that barriers can indeed be broken. It’s time to get down and work to get some results for Detroit and the surrounding areas covered in her district.
How about a congressional delegation to the district that includes Speaker Nancy Pelosi? How about a jobs summit with large employers of labor to help district members land opportunities? How about a congressional forum with the requisite agencies that can help district members with felony convictions who feel trapped because of their past mistakes find employment?
Let’s be honest. It won’t make a difference for a single black mother with three kids looking for employment, or a senior citizen worried about prescriptions if some members of Congress appear to be fighting on Twitter all the time about issues that have little or no impact on their districts.
Picking a fight with AIPAC, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Natanyahu or other players in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is completely irrelevant to the needs of impoverished districts that are seriously waiting for federal help.
Given their unique ascendancy to political stardom, both Omar and Tlaib represent the aspirations of many within and outside this nation. That brings with it an incredible moral authority and the temptation in the era of social media dominance to always speak out on issues that are near and distant.
But at the end of the day, the people who sent them to Congress must not be forgotten because they should be the No. 1 priority. The people in their districts are more interested in issues that concern their day to day living.
There is much work to be done, as demonstrated by the appointment of Tlaib to the powerful House Financial Services Committee. Maybe a survey with district members right now on what kinds of issues they’d like the committee to address will begin to move the needle further in tackling their problems.
Congresswoman Tlaib will do well if she delivers for her district. That’s what some of her supporters have been telling me lately because they are paying attention.
Catch “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Superstation 910AM.