Congress

Rep. Omar won’t apologize for new comments, Dems plan anti-Semitism rebuke

House Democrats plan vote in response to anti-Israel comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., attends a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday, February 13, 2019. The Democratic chairman of that panel is among those criticizing Omar for anti-Semitic remarks. The House will vote on a resolution this week in response. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

House Democratic leaders on Wednesday will call up a vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism — a move meant to respond to anti-Israel comments made by Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar.

Staff from the offices of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Ethics Chairman Ted Deutch worked on the resolution over the weekend but the text has yet to be finalized, according to a senior Democratic aide.

The resolution does not specifically reference Omar, according to draft text obtained by Roll Call. Rather, it lays out numerous whereas statements identifying anti-Semitic stereotypes and incidents of hate crimes that have resulted from such beliefs. 

The resolution makes numerous references to “dual loyalty” that reject the premise that Jews can’t support Israel and be patriotic Americans, and likewise for Americans with ties to other nations.

“Whereas accusations of dual loyalty generally have an insidious, bigoted history,” the resolution reads, citing four examples that include the Japanese internment, the Dreyfuss affair and the treatment of Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 era.

The negative connotation surrounding accusations of dual loyalty seems to be why Democrats and Republicans alike are irked by remarks Omar made last Wednesday during an event with Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib at Busboys and Poets in Washington. 

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said, referring to politicians and special interest groups trying to pressure her and others to support Israel. 

That remark has led to new criticism from members of both parties that Omar is espousing anti-Semitic views. It is the second time in just as many months that Democratic leaders have decided to publicly rebuke Omar for such comments. 

Criticism not new

Since the freshman was sworn into Congress in January, Omar has been attacked by Republicans for comments she’s made both before and after her election to Minnesota’s 5th District against the Israeli government.

The GOP has accused Omar of being anti-Semitic. Most Democrats have not gone that far, but they did condemn Twitter posts she wrote last month suggesting lawmakers took pro-Israel stances because of political contributions from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Omar apologized for the posts — which Democratic leaders had said fed into an anti-Semitic trope and condemned as “deeply offensive” — and no further action was taken against her

After those comments, Republicans forced the House to vote on language condemning anti-Semitism, using a motion to recommit to add it to a resolution removing U.S. armed forces assisting the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen. The motion was agreed to 424-0, with Omar among those voting for it.

The resolution the House will vote on Wednesday makes a statement that seems meant to rebuke Omar’s tweets on AIPAC. 

“Whereas Jewish people are subject to numerous other dangerous anti-Semitic myths as well, including that Jews control the banks, media, and the United States Government or seek world domination and that Jews are obsessed with money,” one clause of the resolution reads. 

Democrats are upset with Omar again after her comments during the Busboys and Poets event. Engel, who is Jewish, issued a statement late Friday night saying Omar invoked “a vile anti-Semitic slur.”

“This episode is especially disappointing following so closely on another instance of Ms. Omar seeming to invoke an anti-Semitic stereotype,” the New York Democrat said. “Her comments were outrageous and deeply hurtful, and I ask that she retract them, apologize, and commit to making her case on policy issues without resorting to attacks that have no place in the Foreign Affairs Committee or the House of Representatives.” 

Omar serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee, and some of her critics have called on Democratic leaders to strip her of that assignment. While not calling for that, Engel’s statement seems to suggest that if Omar does not cease with the offensive comments she could eventually be removed from the committee. 

No apology this time

Despite calls to do so, Omar is not apologizing this time. After House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey said in a two-part tweet Saturday that she was “saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel,” Omar responded by standing by her remarks. 

“Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman!” Omar responded in a series of tweets Sunday. “I 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.”

“I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel, I have questioned it and that has been clear from my end,” Omar added. “I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks.”

Omar’s tweets referenced broader points she made during the event at Busboys and Poets about people trying to silence her views by calling her anti-Semitic. 

“What I’m fearful of — because Rashida and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim,” Omar said, according to Jewish Insider.  

“To me, it’s something that becomes designed to end the debate because you get in this space of — yes, I know what intolerance looks like and I’m sensitive when someone says, ‘The words you used Ilhan, are resemblance of intolerance.’ And I am cautious of that and I feel pained by that,” she added. “But it’s almost as if, every single time we say something regardless of what it is we say … we get to be labeled something. And that ends the discussion. Because we end up defending that and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt wrote a letter Monday to Pelosi requesting the House vote on a resolution rejecting Omar’s “latest slur and make clear that no matter what may divide the 435 members of the House of Representatives, they are united in condemning anti-Semitism.”

The senior Democratic aide said the anti-Semitism resolution the House will vote on Wednesday was drafted long before the letter and that ADL was aware of it.

The main statement of the resolution — the “resolved” portion that follows the whereas statements — says that the House “acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes; and rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.“ 

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