Jewish House Democrats have escalated a confrontation with Rep. Ilhan Omar over her recent statements equating the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban.
A dozen Jewish Democrats issued a statement this week condemning Ms. Omar for using rhetoric that they said reflects “deep-seated prejudice” and provides “cover to terrorist groups.”
The Jewish lawmakers forced House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her entire leadership team to call out Ms. Omar for crossing a line, but they did not condemn her rhetoric or take punitive action against her.
The leaders said they encouraged “legitimate criticism” of the U.S. and Israel but “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.”
Still, the rift was deepening between a far-left that has taken an increasingly hostile stance toward Israel and the rest of the Democratic Caucus.
Several members of “the Squad” came to Ms. Omar’s defense, calling the Jewish Democrats Islamophobic.
“Stop attacking @IlhanMN. Stop attacking us,” said Rep. Cori Bush, Missouri Democrat. “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.”
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York Democrat. “They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”
House Republicans said Mrs. Pelosi and her leadership team came up short in reprimanding Ms. Omar.
“Why haven’t Speaker Pelosi and ALL House Democrats condemned Rep. Ilhan Omar’s vile remarks?” said House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik of New York.
The offending remarks from Ms. Omar, Minnesota Democrat and member of the far-left Squad, were posted Monday on Twitter after she questioned Secretary of State Antony Blinken about U.S. support for the International Criminal Court.
“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” Ms. Omar said at a Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
The tweet quickly made waves within the Democratic Party, according to reporting by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency and The Jerusalem Post. Twenty-five members of the House’s unofficial Jewish Democratic caucus met Wednesday to craft a response, but members were torn on whether to issue a statement specifically condemning Ms. Omar.
Ms. Omar is the first Somali American and the first naturalized citizen of African birth elected to Congress.
A dozen members of the Jewish caucus, led by Rep. Bradley Schneider of Illinois, co-signed the statement issued later that day.
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” the lawmakers said. “Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice.”
Reps. Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts, Ted Deutch of Florida, Lois Frankel of Florida, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Kathy E. Manning of North Carolina, Jerrold Nadler of New York, Dean Philips of Minnesota, Kim Schrier of Washington, Brad Sherman of California, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida joined Mr. Schneider in issuing the statement.
“We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban,” the lawmakers said.
Ms. Omar fired back on Twitter late Wednesday.
“It is shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for “clarification and not just call,” she said. “The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”
In a separate tweet, she said her remarks Monday were not a result of prejudice but were about open cases in the International Criminal Court.
Ms. Omar’s office released several statements in response to the uproar.
In the first, Ms. Omar’s senior Communications Director, Jeremy Slevin accused the far right of inciting death threats in response to the events.
“As usual, the far right is ginning up hate against Rep. Omar for a technical question about an ongoing investigation,” Mr. Slevin said in the statement. “This has already led to an increase in death threats against her and our staff. And now some of her own Democratic colleagues are ginning up the same Islamophobic hate against her, accusing her of giving ‘cover to terrorist groups’ simply for exercising oversight over a criminal investigation.”
Ms. Omar later released a statement to clarify her remarks from Monday. She said that her remarks during Mr. Blinken’s testimony were concerning ongoing investigations by the International Criminal Court and not meant to equate Hamas and the Taliban to the U.S. and Israel.
“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,” she said. “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
The episode builds on divisive anti-Israel statements by Ms. Omar and her far-left colleagues during the Israel-Hamas fighting last month, as well as inflammatory rhetoric over the years.
In March 2019, the House approved an anti-hate resolution after Ms. Omar made remarks about Israel’s influence in U.S. politics that some of her colleagues viewed as antisemitic. Ms. Omar later apologized.
The rebuke of Ms. Omar began as a move to censure her, but Mrs. Pelosi and her lieutenants watered down the resolution to broadly condemn hate speech. The resolution did not specifically name Ms. Omar.
This time, she and her leadership team scolded Ms. Omar but ultimately let her off the hook, saying her clarification was sufficient.
“Legitimate criticism of the policies of both the United States and Israel is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate,” they said in the Thursday statement. “And indeed, such criticism is essential to the strength and health of our democracies. But 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,” they said.