House Democrats roiled by Ilhan Omar comments on Israel, Hamas
Charges of antisemitism, Islamophobia lobbed back and forth
Rep. Ilhan Omar has once again stirred controversy among her Democratic colleagues over her characterization of Israel and the United States. Tensions rose within the Democratic ranks as a tweet from Omar prompted a letter of response from a group of Jewish colleagues in the House and a denunciation from Omar.
Earlier this week, the Minnesota Democrat tweeted about an exchange she had with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, where she pressed for an investigation into human rights abuses both by Hamas and Israeli security forces. But her tweet seemed to compare the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban.
“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” she wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
The comparison prompted strong criticism and pushback from a group of Jewish Democrats in the House, who issued a statement condemning her position and asking the Minnesota Democrat to “clarify her words” or issue an apology.
“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,” said the group of 12 House Democrats, led by Illinois’ Brad Schneider.
“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 statement continued.
The House Democratic caucus has been roiled before by Omar’s statements. In 2019, she suggested that pro-Israel advocates held “allegiance” to Israel, which several Democrats said brought up painful pervasive tropes of American Jews having “dual loyalties.”
[Omar apologizes for ‘anti-Semitic trope’ after criticism]
Some of her comments shortly after arriving in Congress sparked allegations of antisemitism and triggered a debate over whether Democrats should move a resolution on the House floor to punish her.
In a tweet early Thursday morning, Omar called her fellow House Democrats’ reaction “shameful” and said the group of critics failed to call her before releasing their statement.
“The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable,” Omar tweeted, calling out what she described as “Islamophohobic tropes” in their statement. “It’s shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for ‘clarification' and not just call.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, an ally of Omar and the only other Muslim woman to serve in the House, came to her defense Thursday, tweeting that she is “tired of colleagues (both D+R) demonizing [Omar].”
“Their obsession with policing her is sick,” Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, wrote. “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.”
Another of Omar’s allies in the House, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, sounded a similar note via Twitter: “Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus. They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”
Omar also spoke out Wednesday night about the death threats she regularly receives, tweeting out audio of a recent threat against her and her staff.
“Muslims are terrorists. And she is a raghead n_____. And every anti-American communist piece of s___that works for her, I hope you get what’s f___ing coming for you,” said the caller.
Omar said that this vitriolic response was “incited directly” by articles from right-wing media and by Republicans in the House, citing a tweet by Colorado Republican Lauren Boebert saying that Omar was “an honorary member of Hamas.”
Omar did clarify her Monday tweet and statement on Thursday, after tension rose from the public back-and-forth within the caucus.
“On Monday, I asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about an ongoing International Criminal Court investigations. To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel,” Omar said in a statement. “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” she continued.
Six House Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer and Whip James E. Clyburn, issued a statement addressing the percolating strife within the caucus and thanking Omar for her clarification that there is not a “moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban.”
“Legitimate criticism of the policies of both the United States and Israel is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate. And indeed, such criticism is essential to the strength and health of our democracies,” they wrote. “But drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all.”
Omar has been under a Capitol Police protective detail for much of her time in Washington, a status typically reserved for key leaders of each chamber, but also implemented for rank-and-file members receiving credible threats against them.