Monday March 4, 2019
By Deanna Paul
The Fix’s Eugene Scott analyzes the thin line between criticizing Israel and being labeled anti-Semitic, after Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) comments about AIPAC. (JM Rieger/The Washington Post)
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is facing more accusations of making anti-Semitic remarks, with a senior member of her party rebuking the House freshman for words that he said conjured a “vile anti-Semitic slur.”
Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has demanded an apology over comments Omar made Wednesday, less than a month after she was condemned by bipartisan leadership for suggesting that pro-Israel lobbying groups and Jewish politicians influence American politics.
Her latest comments came during a town hall in Washington while speaking about liberal issues. “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said.
In a statement Friday, Eliot said he welcomed debate in Congress but that it was “unacceptable and deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the US-Israel relationship.”
“Her comments were outrageous and deeply hurtful, and I ask that she retract them, apologize, and commit to making her case on policy issues without resorting to attacks that have no place in the Foreign Affairs Committee or the House of Representatives,” he said.
Omar’s spokesman, Jeremy Slevin, told the Associated Press on Friday that the congresswoman expressed remorse about her comments in February but that “we must distinguish between criticism of a particular faith and fair critiques of lobbying groups.”
Just as earlier this month the congresswoman “only meant to target the pro-Israel lobby,” he said.
On Sunday, Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), when asked about Omar’s words on Fox News, said lawmakers need to be careful not to use anti-Semitic language.
“We need to make sure — on both sides — that everyone is being very careful,” she said. “I see it on both sides. I see too much hatred, period.”
Dingell also condemned the anti-Muslim poster that surfaced Friday during a Republican event in the West Virginia Capitol. The poster, which Democrats have called racist and Islamophobic, linked Omar to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, denounced discrimination of both faiths Sunday, writing on Twitter: “I am appalled by @IlhanMN’s #antiSemitic comments, but that does not diminish my revulsion at this poster. It’s a smear, not only against her but also against the entire Muslim-American community. I call on people of all faiths to join me in condemning it.”
Engel’s call for Omar to apologize follows two other incidents from earlier this year.
Omar’s Jan. 22 apology came after a 2012 tweet, in which she said, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” recirculated.
Then, she said the post was merely referring to Israel’s conduct in war.
In February, more than 20 House Democrats demanded an apology from Omar after she suggested (again, on Twitter) that Israel’s allies in Congress were motivated by money instead of principle. Trump called for Omar to resign from Congress or give up her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and bipartisan leadership issued a joint statement insisting on an apology for her “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters.”
For Omar, who is Muslim and represents a district with a fairly large Muslim population, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has long been an issue of note.
As Washington Post reporters Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade previously reported: “The firestorm exposed deep divisions within the Democratic Party over the unquestioned U.S. support of Israel, pitting long-standing Democratic backers of the Jewish state against the party’s newest lawmakers and several 2020 presidential candidates who have spoken out in favor of Palestinian rights.”
Omar apologized on the social media platform, writing: “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
On Saturday, Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) tweeted that she is “saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel,” and urged her Congressional colleague to “engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.”
Omar defended herself the next day.
“I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel," she tweeted Sunday. "I find that to be problematic and I am not alone.”
She added that, “My Americanness is questioned by the President and the @GOP on a daily basis, yet my colleagues remain silent."
“I know what it means to be American and no one will ever tell me otherwise.”