- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Three top Democratic presidential contenders came Wednesday to the defense of Rep. Omar Ilhan, the first-term congresswoman who sparked an uproar over anti-Semitism that has the House Democratic leadership reeling.

In separate statements, Sens. Kamala D. Harris of California, Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts warned against confusing legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.

“We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America,” Ms. Harris said. “But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk.”

Ms. Omar has resisted calls for her to apologize for blasting those who pledge “allegiance to a foreign country,” referring to Israel, in what has been decried as an anti-Semitic trope about dual Jewish loyalty.

Mr. Sanders, who is Jewish, said he worried about a push to “target” Ms. Omar.

“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology, which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world,” Mr. Sanders said. “We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an evenhanded Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace.”

He added, “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”

Ms. Harris echoed those comments, concluding, “We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country.”

“I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism,” she said. “At the end of the day, we need a two-state solution and a commitment to peace, human rights, and democracy by all leaders in the region ― and a commitment by our country to help achieve that.”

The Republican Jewish Coalition, which has called for Ms. Omar to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Ms. Harris’s statement “gutless” and disputed the implication that Ms. Omar was engaged in a respectful foreign-policy discussion.

“She knows that the cause of this is @Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism, not her criticism of Israel,” tweeted the RJC. “And what is worse, she waters down the issue by mentioning hate against other groups. The issue here is Omar’s anti-Jewish hate.”

Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel asked, “Will any 2020 Democrat condemn this anti-Semite?”

House Democratic leaders have struggled with how to handle the incident. Their initial plan to vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism — which did not mention Ms. Omar by name — has reportedly fallen apart after pushback on the left.

At the same time, a dozen pro-Israel Jewish groups have called for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to go further by removing Ms. Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

In her statement, Ms. Warren condemned threats of violence against Ms. Omar. The FBI is investigating a message scrawled on a bathroom stall last month in Rogers, Minnesota, that said, “Assassinate Ilhan Omar.”

“We have a moral duty to combat hateful ideologies in our own country and around the world ― and that includes both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” Ms. Warren said. “In a democracy, we can and should have an open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy. Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Threats of violence ― like those made against Rep. Omar ― are never acceptable.”

All three statements were posted on HuffPost and other news outlets.

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