House plans vote condemning anti-Semitism, aimed at comments by Ilhan Omar

Christopher Wilson
Senior Writer

A resolution condemning anti-Semitism is circulating among members of the House of Representatives in the wake of controversial comments by Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn.

It is the second time in as many months that Omar, who is Muslim, has drawn criticism for comments that have been labeled anti-Semitic. The four-page draft resolution, which has been tentatively scheduled for a vote Wednesday, begins by “rejecting anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

The resolution is a response to Omar’s remark several weeks ago about the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) (asserting its influence is “all about the Benjamins”), for which she has apologized, and a more recent comment alluding to Americans who promote “allegiance to a foreign country,” meaning Israel.

"I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” said Omar in a progressive town hall last week. "I want to ask, 'Why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the NRA or fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy?’”

At the state and federal level, there has been a push for legislation that would make support of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement illegal. Jonathan Greenblatt, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, wrote a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calling for denunciation of Omar’s comments.

“That is why that, in light of these additional anti-Semitic statements by Rep. Omar, we ask that you give the entire Congress an opportunity, through a House resolution, to voice its rejection of her 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,” wrote Greenblatt. “We urge you and your colleagues to send the unambiguous message that the United States Congress is no place for hate.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., in 2018. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Although the draft resolution does not mention Omar by name, it does note that “the myth of dual loyalty, including allegations that Jews should be suspected of being disloyal neighbors or citizens, has been used to marginalize and persecute the Jewish people for centuries for being a stateless minority.”

It cites, in brief passages, other examples of the “dual loyalty” myth: the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II; the notorious “Dreyfus Affair” in 19th century France; the slur that the first Catholic U.S. president, John F. Kennedy, would be beholden to the Vatican; and rhetoric linking American Muslims to terrorism after 9/11.

In February, Omar apologized for comments where she stated that support for Israel among Washington, D.C., politicians was due to money from the pro-Israel lobby.

“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” said Omar, adding, “I unequivocally apologize.”

Two days later, the House voted unanimously to condemn anti-Semitism in a nonbinding resolution attached to an unrelated bill.

But after Omar’s latest comments, legislators from both sides of the aisle called on her for a retraction and another apology.

“Lawmakers must be able to debate w/o prejudice or bigotry,” wrote Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. “I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel. I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.”

Omar responded to Lowey’s comments by citing the discrimination she faces. On Friday, the congresswoman’s picture appeared on a sign linking her to terrorism, posted at a meeting of Republicans in the West Virginia capital.

“Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman!” wrote Omar on Twitter. “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. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that! I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel, I have questioned it and that has been clear from my end. 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.”

She added: “My Americanness is questioned by the President and the @GOP on a daily basis, yet my colleagues remain silent. I know what it means to be American and no one will ever tell me otherwise.”


Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at a press conference calling on Congress to cut funding for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and to defund border detention facilities, in Washington, D.C., Feb. 7, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Some, including President Trump, have called for Omar to be stripped of her committee assignments as happened to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, after his latest statement in a long history of racist rhetoric.

“Representative Ilhan Omar is again under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel,” said Trump on Twitter Monday night. “Jewish groups have just sent a petition to Speaker Pelosi asking her to remove Omar from Foreign Relations Committee. A dark day for Israel!”

Last month, Trump also said that Omar should resign. Defenders of Omar have pointed out that bigoted comments from other members of Congress have gone overlooked.

“One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities (during the shutdown, a GOP member yelled ‘Go back to Puerto Rico!’ on the floor),” wrote Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on Twitter. “It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid. But incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll ‘send Obama home to Kenya?’”

Ocasio-Cortez was referring to comments Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., made during the 2012 campaign, spreading the conspiracy theory that the first African-American president was born outside the country. Videos of Meadows making those comments circulated last week after Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., accused him of perpetrating racism by bringing a black woman as a “prop” to the hearing at which former Trump attorney Michael Cohen described the president’s history of making derogatory comments about African-Americans.

Tlaib is the other Muslim woman in the House.

“[Rep. Omar’s] strength inspires me and so many,” wrote Tlaib on Twitter Sunday. “She is being targeted just like many civil rights icons before us who spoke out about oppressive policies. As she uplifts my Sity and other Palestinians in the name of justice and peace, she shows us real courage.”

The New York Times reported Monday that Bill Fiske, an AIPAC member who runs a political action committee that supports pro-Israel candidates, had set his sights on campaigning against Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib.

“They are three people who, in my opinion, will not be around in several years,” said Fiske.

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