Nancy Pelosi rebukes Ilhan Omar for tweet on Israel, Hamas and Taliban
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, issued a rebuke of Ilhan Omar on Thursday, after the outspoken Minnesota congresswoman said she was a victim of “harassment and silencing” by fellow Democrats over a remark about the US, Israel, Afghanistan and Hamas.
“Drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the US 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,” Pelosi said, in a statement issued with the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer, and other members of the party hierarchy.
Omar made the initial comments on Monday, in a tweet accompanying video of a question she asked the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, in a House hearing.
“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” Omar wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan and the Taliban. I asked Secretary Blinken where people are supposed to go for justice.”
The tweet stoked controversy for seeming to equate the actions of the US and Israel with those of Hamas, an Iran-linked militant organisation in the Palestinian territories which the US lists as a terrorist group, and the Taliban, Islamic extremists US and coalition troops have fought in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years.
In May, conflict between Israel and Hamas led to the deaths of 12 people in Israel and 248 in the Palestinian territories – and accusations of war crimes on both sides.
As Republicans accused Omar of antisemitism and pushed for her to be expelled from the House foreign affairs committee, a group of Jewish House Democrats issued their own criticism.
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” they wrote in a statement. “Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organisations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice.
“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.”
On Twitter, Omar responded: “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. The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment and silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.
“Citing an open case against Israel, US, Hamas & Taliban in the [International Criminal Court] isn’t comparison or from ‘deeply seated prejudice’. You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims but history has thought us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever.”
She also retweeted comments by the MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan, who said: “Maybe these House Democrats should read beyond the Fox/Daily Mail headlines and faux outrage and not help incite more hate against Omar.”
Omar reported receiving threats, including being called “a raghead N-word” and her staff “anti-American communist piece[s] of shit”.
“This is the kind of incitement and hate that leads to real violence,” she said.
Omar came to the US from Somalia as child and in 2018 was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. With the other, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, she is a member of the so-called “Squad” of Democratic women of colour whose progressive values and use of the media spotlight often put them at odds with party leaders.
Among Democrats who came to Omar’s defence amid controversy over her remark about Hamas and the Taliban, the Missouri representative Cori Bush said: “I’m not surprised when Republicans attack Black women for standing up for human rights. But when it’s Democrats, it’s especially hurtful. We’re your colleagues. Talk to us directly. Enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia.”
On Thursday Omar did clarify her remarks, saying she was not making “a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel” and was “in no way equating terrorist organisations with democratic countries”.
Pelosi and Hoyer said: “We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the US and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban.”