Politics

Jewish Democratic lawmakers, including Jake Auchincloss, denounce Ilhan Omar’s ‘offensive’ tweet

Rep. Ilhan Omar, March 11, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Drew Angerer / Getty Images


WASHINGTON – A group of 12 Jewish Democratic lawmakers, including Massachusetts Congressman Jake Auchincloss, slammed Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., over a tweet she wrote that seemed to equate the actions of the United States and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban, calling it “offensive” and demanding she “clarify” her words.

The tension is the latest over Omar’s frequent criticisms of the Israeli government – comments that lawmakers from both parties have at times condemned as perpetuating antisemitic stereotypes.

Omar, a Muslim immigrant from Somalia, hit back at her colleagues for publicly criticizing her instead of discussing their objections with her privately. She accused them on Twitter of using “islamophobic tropes” and called her treatment “unbearable.”

Omar’s tweet stemmed from a question she asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday about where victims of attacks by the Israeli or Afghan governments can go for justice.

“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” she tweeted with a video of her question to Blinken. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

The Jewish Democrats, led by Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois, released a joint statement late Wednesday denouncing Omar’s tweet.

“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice,” they wrote.

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“The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups. We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the US and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.”

The tweet renewed calls by some Republicans to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Many objected to her membership on the committee when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., gave her the assignment as a freshman in 2019. Pelosi’s spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about this latest friction within the Democratic caucus.

A spokesman for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., also did not respond when asked about Omar’s tweet.

But Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Jewish Republican from New York, tweeted: “Ilhan Omar must be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She should have never been appointed to this Committee in the first place.”

The reaction against Omar follows widespread criticism of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who compared covid restrictions such as mask-wearing to forcing Jewish people to wear yellow stars during the Holocaust. Greene, who was removed from her committee assignments earlier in the year over her promotion of violence against prominent Democratic politicians, did not apologize.

Issues involving Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments are particularly fraught after a weeks-long conflict between the Israeli government and Hamas gave rise to an increase in antisemitic attacks in the United States.

Omar’s tweet also comes amid shifting attitudes toward Israel in the Democratic Party that have triggered sometimes heated internal debates. Fueling the changes have been years of Democratic frustration with the hard-line conservative policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, coupled with generational and ideological shifts in Congress and the party more broadly, close observers say.

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During the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs the Gaza Strip, many Democrats pushed for the United States to adopt a sterner posture toward the Israeli government. That pressure yielded results, as even longtime Israel hawks such as Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., publicly urged a cease-fire. President Biden also showed some sensitivity to the changing dynamics in his party.

Still, some Democrats have argued that the rhetoric used by the more liberal members of Congress such as Omar goes too far. Among House Democrats, the stark divisions have been evident in dueling statements and floor speeches.

A group of Jewish House Democrats recently sent a letter to Biden asserting that accusing Israel of “committing ‘act[s] of terrorism'” is antisemitic. Omar, who had tweeted that “Israeli airstrikes killing civilians in Gaza is an act of terrorism,” rejected such criticism, arguing in another tweet: “We cannot equate legitimate criticism of the Israeli government, its policy, and its military occupation with anti-Semitism.”

Omar’s spokesman, Jeremy Slevin, said the congresswoman reached out to the Democrats to discuss the matter before they released their statement but that her calls were not returned.

In response to her colleagues Thursday morning, Omar tweeted: “The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”

Omar is the frequent target of anti-Muslim attacks. Slevin accused the House Democrats who publicly criticized her of “ginning up the same Islamophobic hate against her, accusing her of giving ‘cover to terrorist groups’ simply for exercising oversight over a criminal investigation.”

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Omar also shared on Twitter a recording of a recent expletive-laden threat she received that called Muslims terrorists and referred to her using racial slurs like “raghead” and the n-word.

Just weeks into her first term as a congresswoman, Omar faced intense backlash from many of her Democratic colleagues over a string of comments she made that critics decried as antisemitic, including the suggestion that advocates for Israel “push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Before that, she was forced to apologize for suggesting that supporters of Israel were motivated by money, tweeting: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” Pelosi released a statement calling Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” deeply offensive and insisted she apologize.

The House then voted in March 2019 on two resolutions condemning antisemitism in response to Omar’s comments.

Omar, who is one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress and wears a hijab, has been a perpetual punching bag for the right, including Donald Trump.As president, Trump often named her at rallies, and his criticism at one of them prompted his supporters to chant, “Send her back.”

Some of Omar’s friends in Congress came to her defense Thursday – a signal that the tension over Omar within the House Democratic caucus may escalate as more lawmakers pick sides.

“I am tired of colleagues (both D+R) demonizing @IlhanMN,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. “Their obsession with policing her is sick. She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible. That’s better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics.”

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