South Florida Dems feud with Ilhan Omar for equating U.S., Israel with Hamas, Taliban

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Three South Florida Democrats signed a statement with nine of their U.S. House colleagues criticizing recent statements by Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar that lumped together alleged human rights abuses committed by the United States and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban.

U.S. Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Ted Deutch and Lois Frankel, who are Jewish, urged Omar, who is Muslim, “to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.”

“Equating the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” the lawmakers wrote. “Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and organizations that engage in terrorism discredits one’s intended argument and 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.”

On Monday, Omar questioned Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. In a tweet that appeared with a video of her questioning Blinken about ways Palestinians can access recourse for human rights violations during the latest Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Omar equated the U.S. and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban, two organizations the United States designates as terrorist groups.

“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” Omar tweeted. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

South Florida Democrats have repeatedly criticized Omar to varying degrees since she entered office in 2019. In March 2019, the House passed a broad resolution condemning hate in response to Omar’s criticism of Israel instead of singling out anti-Semitism, and Deutch said the text should have been narrowly focused.

“It feels like we’re only able to call out the use of anti-Semitic language by a colleague of ours, any colleague of ours, if we’re addressing all forms of hatred,” Deutch said on the House floor.

Omar responds

But unlike two years ago, when Omar supported the House resolution and apologized for tweeting “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby” while criticizing congressional Republicans’ support for Israel, Omar is pushing back on her Democratic colleagues. She accused Wasserman Schultz, Deutch and Frankel, among others, of “harassment and silencing.”

“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,” Omar tweeted early Thursday morning. “The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”

Omar said her use of the U.S., Israel, Hamas and the Taliban in the same question was done because all four face open International Criminal Court cases for alleged war crimes. Israel and the Biden administration, like that of previous presidents, do not recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction though Biden removed sanctions on ICC officials imposed by former President Donald Trump.

“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 released Thursday afternoon. “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”

Wasserman Schultz and Frankel declined to comment on Omar’s response to their statement, whether they think Omar should be formally punished or whether they reached out to Omar before going public. Deutch did not respond to a request for comment.

The ‘Squad’ defends Omar

Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Missouri Rep. Cori Bush and Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Ayanna Pressley, members of the self-proclaimed “Squad” of left-leaning Democrats, all publicly defended Omar and criticized the Democrats who signed the statement.

“Pretty sick and tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of [Ihan Omar] coming from our caucus,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations and leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”

Omar also released vulgar, threatening messages that were sent to her office after Republicans criticized her questions to Blinken earlier this week.

The latest back-and-forth within the Democratic Party coincides with the recent violence in Israel and Gaza along with the rise of anti-Semitic attacks throughout the United States. President Joe Biden pledged that the Justice Department will use “all of the tools at its disposal to combat hate crimes” in a statement last month.

Republicans are calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to punish Omar for her latest remarks. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted Thursday that Omar’s remarks were “anti-Semitic and anti-American” and said “it’s time for the speaker to act.”

Pelosi and House Democratic leaders said Thursday afternoon that “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.”

“We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban,” the Democratic leaders said in a statement.

Miami Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said Omar should be removed from her committee assignments.

“The double standard must end NOW,” Diaz-Balart tweeted. “Ilhan Omar must be removed from all committees immediately.”

It’s likely that House Republicans will attempt to force a vote on punishing Omar when they return to Washington next week.

While South Florida’s three Jewish members of Congress did not specifically refer to Omar’s recent remarks as anti-Semitic, Jay Shehadeh, a South Florida attorney who grew up in the West Bank and is active in local faith-based organizations, said Omar’s questioning of Blinken was fair.

“To conflate holding Israel accountable for war crimes with anti-Semitism is a conflation of what this term of anti-Semitism means,” Shehadeh said. “Israel being held accountable for improper actions is not anti-Semitic, but certainly conflating the bad acts of Israel with our Jewish brothers and sisters is.”

Shehadeh said he hopes House Democrats do not discipline Omar for her tweet and questions to Blinken.

“Any discipline would be highly inappropriate for both her question and this tweet,” Shehadeh said.

Shehadeh, along with Shabbir Motorwala, a founding member and volunteer for the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations, said Islamophobic attacks and anti-Semitic attacks are both on the rise in the United States and North America. Motorwala said he was dismayed at the lack of media attention given to an attack in Canada on Sunday where four people died after being run over intentionally due to their Islamic faith.

“We’re seeing a rise of anti-Semitism, and we’re seeing a rise of Islamophobia as well,” Shehadeh said.

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