Pelosi seeks to tamp down anti-Semitism controversy

Democrats are dealing with a new storm of controversy surrounding freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who for a second time in less than a month has made critical remarks about Israel. 

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and other top Democratic leaders have drafted a resolution, expected to get a floor vote on Wednesday, to condemn anti-Semitism after Omar’s latest comments suggesting that pro-Israel groups are pushing “allegiance to a foreign country.” 

{mosads}Democrats are showing no signs of removing Omar from her post on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, despite calls from Republicans and some conservative-leaning pro-Israel groups. Doing so would almost certainly spark a backlash from progressives, including allies such as fellow freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.).

Since taking over control of the House three months ago, Democrats have largely been united — especially during the shutdown battle with President Trump. But Omar’s remarks have divided them, and Democratic leaders are hoping a vote on the resolution will put the matter behind them. 

Omar and Tlaib are the first Muslim women elected to Congress.

Omar said at an event at a Washington bookstore and restaurant last week that critics calling her anti-Semitic were trying to silence debate.

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said.

Liberals have instead sought to draw attention to the controversy featuring Islamophobia at the West Virginia statehouse, where an altercation broke out over a poster on display that compared Omar to the terrorists in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. 

“I’m pretty heartbroken that there isn’t more denunciation of this outward and blatant expression of bigotry and Islamophobia by a state party,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “[In my opinion,] those who stood up against anti-Semitism a few weeks ago should also be calling out the Islamophobia here, too.”

Tlaib, a progressive firebrand who has also faced scrutiny by the GOP for speaking critically of Israel, came to Omar’s defense. She argued that Omar shouldn’t be accused of anti-Semitism for questioning the U.S.-Israel relationship and the treatment of Palestinians.

“[Omar’s] strength inspires me and so many. She is being targeted just like many civil rights icons before us who spoke out about oppressive policies. As she uplifts my Sity and other Palestinians in the name of justice and peace, she shows us real courage,” Tlaib tweeted.

{mossecondads}A copy of the resolution’s text obtained by The Hill does not specifically cite Omar’s comments. It does state that “accusations of dual loyalty generally have an insidious, bigoted history,” and declares that the House “acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes” and “rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

A vote on the resolution would be the second time in three weeks that the House voted on rebuking anti-Semitism because of Omar.

Last month, Omar apologized after suggesting that U.S. lawmakers defending Israel were motivated by money, writing on Twitter that “it’s all about the Benjamins baby.” 

The House adopted a measure offered by Rep. David Kustoff (R-Tenn.) two days later to condemn anti-Semitism as part of a resolution to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen. Kustoff, who is Jewish, proposed it as part of a rarely successful procedural motion used by the minority party to offer final changes to legislation before it passes.

But this time, Omar is doubling down despite calls from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) to apologize. Both Engel and Lowey are Jewish.

“I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee,” Omar tweeted in response to Lowey, who had called the comments “hurtful.”

“I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks,” Omar said. 

Engel had issued a statement late Friday accusing Omar of invoking a “vile anti-Semitic slur.”

“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,” Engel said in the statement.

Engel, like a number of House Democrats, has long been a supporter of Israel. 

But Engel faces the tricky balancing act of expressing his disagreements with Omar while potentially facing the threat of a primary challenge.

Engel has been floated to Justice Democrats, the organization which helped coordinate Ocasio-Cortez’s shocking defeat of former Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) last year, as a longtime incumbent who some liberals believe should face a primary challenge from the left.

Staff for top Democrats began drafting the resolution over the weekend, according to a senior Democratic aide. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) added pressure Monday with a letter to Pelosi calling for a resolution to reject Omar’s “latest slur.”

“Accusing Jews of having allegiance to a foreign government has long been a vile anti-Semitic slur that has been used to harass, marginalize, and persecute the Jewish people for centuries,” ADL CEO and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt wrote in the letter. “We urge you and your colleagues to send the unambiguous message that the United States Congress is no place for hate.”

House GOP leaders, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), objected to Omar’s appointment to the Foreign Affairs Committee from the start in January. They cited Omar’s tweet in 2012 amid the Gaza war stating that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

Omar later expressed regret over the tweet, writing in January that “it’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy in disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.”

Republicans forced the vote to condemn anti-Semitism last month as a way that made it hard for Democrats to oppose it. But GOP aides said Monday that no further legislative plans are in the works at this point.

Scheduling a floor vote on the resolution will give rank-and-file Democrats cover from Republicans, who could have forced another vote seeking to make Democrats go on the record about Omar’s comments. 

Yet GOP leaders dismissed the resolution as not going far enough.

“Resolutions are all well and good, but Speaker Pelosi is clearly afraid to stand up to Rep. Omar if she continues to reward her with a plum spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee,” tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who is Jewish and serves on the Foreign Affairs Committee, reiterated Monday that he thinks Omar should be booted from the panel. He called on Democratic leaders to take up his resolution condemning anti-Semitism that he introduced in January, which specifically cites past comments from Omar and Tlaib.

“Rep. Omar should be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee and shouldn’t have been appointed to this important position in the first place,” Zeldin said.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez David Kustoff Donald Trump Eliot Engel Ilhan Omar Kevin McCarthy Lee Zeldin Nancy Pelosi Nita Lowey Rashida Tlaib Steve Scalise

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