WASHINGTON – Video of Chelsea Clinton being confronted by several students who claimed her "rhetoric" had "stoked" the New Zealand mosque attacks went viral Saturday — and allowed for an unexpected bipartisan moment as Republicans came to her defense.
The video was taken Friday at a vigil in New York for the 50 victims of the shootings, which targeted two mosques in Christchurch. Students confronted Clinton, who is pregnant with her third child, over statements she'd made denouncing anti-Semitism.
"This right here is the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world," one student said in the video. "I want you to know that and I want you to feel that deep inside. The 49 people died because of the rhetoric you put out there."
Other students who circled around started snapping in support, a show of solidarity instead of clapping.
Clinton responded, putting her hands up to her heart, and telling the group that she was sorry they felt her comments were wrong. Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was one of many political leaders who denounced anti-Semitism after Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar criticized Israel's treatment of Palestinians and alleged money and lobbying were driving the United States to defend Israel and halt debate over the issue.
"I am so sorry that you feel that way," Clinton told the students. "It certainly was never my intention. I do believe that words matter. I believe we have to show solidarity with each other."
Another student chimed in on the video asking, "What does 'I'm sorry you feel that way mean?"
The students, at least one of whom were Palestinian, said they felt the need to speak up after the controversy surrounding Rep. Omar.
Critics, including some of Omar's fellow Democrats, said her comments about lobbying and Israel played to anti-Semitic tropes. In the aftermath of her comments, the House took up a resolution that denounced anti-Semitism and other forms of hatred.
Omar apologized for the comments but stood firm in wanting to spark conversation about lobbying and whether money influences the relationship between countries. She said the charge of anti-Semitism was "designed to end the debate" about Israel's treatment of Palestinians.
U.S. presidents have tried and failed for decades to fashion an agreement to end the conflict that has persisted since Israel was founded in 1948, including calls for a two-state solution. The goal of creating an independent Palestinian state existing peacefully alongside Israel has been embraced by past Democratic and Republican administrations and the United Nations.
But the path for peace has been marred by terrorism, wars and a growing Israeli presence in areas Palestinians want for a homeland.
At a town hall earlier this month, Omar said she was concerned that because of her religion "a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, (think) that everything we say about Israel (is) anti-Semitic because we are Muslim."
The video of Clinton and students quickly started making the rounds Friday evening with a wide array of people, on both sides of the political aisle, condemning the students for blaming Clinton for the tragedy in New Zealand.
It’s sickening to see people blame @ChelseaClinton for the NZ attacks because she spoke out against anti-Semitism. We should all be condemning anti-Semitism & all forms of hate. Chelsea should be praised for speaking up. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is part of the problem.— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) March 16, 2019
"It’s sickening to see people blame @ChelseaClinton for the NZ attacks because she spoke out against anti-Semitism," Donald Trump Jr., the president's eldest son, wrote on Twitter on Saturday. "We should all be condemning anti-Semitism & all forms of hate. Chelsea should be praised for speaking up. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is part of the problem."
Other Republicans used the confrontation to compare it to how President Donald Trump's rhetoric has been blamed for stoking violence and allowing a rise to white supremacism. Conservative pundit Candace Owens, whose name was mentioned by the New Zealand gunman in his 74-page manifesto, said blaming others for such a tragedy was "nonsense."
"It should go without saying but neither myself, @ChelseaClinton or Spyro the Dragon had anything to do with the tragedy in New Zealand," Owens wrote on Twitter Saturday. "Please stop the nonsense."
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a prominent conservative commentator, agreed and said the blame lies solely with the gunman.
"Blaming Chelsea Clinton for NZ massacre is as dumb as blaming @realDonaldTrump for it, or blaming Bernie Sanders for assassination attempt of @SteveScalise It's the shooter's fault. Period," Huckabee said, mentioning the 2017 congressional baseball shooting suspect who was a Sanders supporter. "No one 'MADE' him do it."
Blaming Chelsea Clinton for NZ massacre is as dumb as blaming @realDonaldTrump for it, or blaming Bernie Sanders for assassination attempt of @SteveScalise It's the shooter's fault. Period. No one "MADE" him do it. https://t.co/RhmHUZt9Wf— Gov. Mike Huckabee (@GovMikeHuckabee) March 16, 2019
Contributing: Maureen Groppe; Oren Dorell
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Chelsea Clinton berated by students blaming her 'rhetoric' for causing New Zealand shootings