Ilhan Omar at the mic

Rep. Ilhan Omar announces her participation in the newly-formed black-Jewish caucus, a bi-partisan effort launched by Rep. Brenda Lawrence.

Featured photo via Ilhan Omar Facebook

The recently formed black-Jewish Congressional caucus, a bi-partisan effort led in part by Southfield-based Rep. Brenda Lawrence to strengthen strained relations between the black and Jewish communities, will be tested early with the announcement Thursday by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) that she will participate in it.

Rep. Omar, whose district in the Minneapolis area includes several thousand Jewish constituents, expressed support for the caucus in a tweet, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, despite feuding with one of its co-founders, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R- New York). Zeldin has called Rep. Omar anti-Semitic, and Rep. Omar has branded Rep. Zeldin a bigot, endorsing references to him as Islamophobic.

In addition to Lawrence and Zeldin, other leaders of the caucus include Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Florida), Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia).

In an interview with the Jewish News for the May 23 issue, Lawrence said she was drawing on her longstanding knowledge of the Detroit area Jewish community in helping to form the caucus. She was a member of the Southfield school board and city council before serving as mayor for 15 years.

Lawrence said that historically, the black and Jewish communities have often stood together.

“When I come home and meet with the Jewish community, I find they’re still connected to fighting for civil rights in America. They are still committed to being a voice,” she told the Jewish News.

“I don’t think my colleagues know how small the population of the Jewish community is or understand the diversity inside of the Jewish community … I know that anti-Semitic and racist comments hurt all of us … I’m going to start this caucus as my way to keep the focus on that, as well as the U.S. – Israel relationship.”

Her initial challenge may be on balancing the desire, expressed by The American Jewish Committee, for the caucus to “sensitize Rep. Omar to the importance, history and achievements of black-Jewish relations in our country.”

For her part, Rep. Omar expressed hope that “Zelden can learn and grow.”