Ilhan Omar’s anti-Israel, anti-U.S. rhetoric opens schism in House Democratic Caucus

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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 they said reflects “deep-seated prejudice” and provides “cover to terrorist groups.”

The move puts House Democratic leaders on the spot about whether to rebuke or possibly censure Ms. Omar.

The offending remark from Ms. Omar, Minnesota Democrat, was posted on Twitter Monday following her questioning of Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a hearing 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. “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, with members 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 unofficial Jewish caucus, led by Rep. Brad 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 from Monday were not a result of prejudice and were made regarding open cases in the International Criminal Court.

Ms. Omar’s senior communications director, Jeremy Slevin, said that the congresswoman reached out to the letter writers to further clarify her statement but the Jewish lawmakers did not return her calls.

Mr. Slevin also called Ms. Omar’s colleagues’ statement Islamophobic and accused the far-right of inciting death threats against the congresswoman and her staff.

“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.”

The episode builds on divisive anti-Israel statements made by Ms. Omar and her far-left colleagues during the Israel-Hamas fighting last month, as well as other others inflammatory rhetoric in prior years.

In March of 2019, the House approved an anti-hate resolution following remarks Ms. Omar made regarding Israel’s influence in U.S. politics, which were viewed as anti-Semitic by some of her colleagues and for which she later apologized.

That time, the rebuke of Ms. Omar began as a move to censure her but the resolution was watered down by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her lieutenants to broadly condemn hate speech. Ms. Omar was not specifically named in the resolution.

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