Pelosi defends Omar: 'I feel confident' she is not anti-Semitic

Pelosi defends Omar: 'I feel confident' she is not anti-Semitic
© Stefani Reynolds
 
Pelosi said Omar's comments invoking the anti-Semitic "dual loyalty" trope were insensitive, but are no indication that Omar — one of two Muslim women to join Congress this year — harbors ill feelings towards Jewish people.
 
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"I don't think that the congresswoman perhaps appreciates the full weight of how it was heard by other people, although I don't believe it was intended in an anti-Semitic way," Pelosi told reporters at the Capitol. "But the fact is, if that's how it was interpreted, we have to remove all doubt."
 
Pelosi and her leadership team are working on a resolution that would condemn hate speech, which is expected to get a vote on the floor Thursday afternoon. The resolution comes in direct response to Omar's comments, although Democratic leaders — under pressure from members of the Congressional Black Caucus and other liberal Omar allies — are broadening the language well beyond anti-Semitism. And Pelosi on Thursday rejected the idea that the measure concerns Omar at all.
 
"I thought the resolution should enlarge the issue to anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy, and that it should not mention her name," Pelosi said. "And that's what we're working on — something that is one resolution addressing these forms of hatred, not mentioning her name, because it's not about her. It's about these forms of hatred."
 
Omar sparked a firestorm of controversy over the weekend when, appearing at a public event in Washington, D.C., she suggested that U.S. supporters of Israel have an "allegiance to a foreign country."
 
The backlash came quickly, with a number of leading Jewish voices on Capitol Hill — including Reps. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyCongress set to ignore Trump's wall request in stopgap measure Overnight Defense: Trump says Taliban talks 'dead' after canceled Camp David meeting | North Korea offers to restart nuke talks this month | Trump denies role in Air Force crew staying at his resort McConnell: Short-term spending bill needed to avoid shutdown MORE (D-N.Y.), Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Dems grill Trump Army, Air Force picks | House chair subpoenas Trump Afghanistan negotiator | Trump officials release military aid to Ukraine House chairman subpoenas Trump's Afghanistan negotiator Giuliani tears into Democrats after House opens probe into whether he pressured Ukraine to target Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' DOJ files brief arguing against House impeachment probe MORE (D-N.Y.) — pressing Pelosi and other party leaders to respond with a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism. The critics said Omar's comments alluded to the long-held anti-Semitic trope that anyone supportive of Israel harbors "dual loyalty."
 
Pelosi said she spoke first with Omar directly, then other concerned members of the caucus, and decided the resolution should be expanded to denounce hatred in all forms. 
 
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"Our country has no place for this," she said, noting that the House recently passed a separate measure condemning anti-Semitism specifically.
 
The decision to expand the language — and to exclude mention of Omar — isn't sitting well with some Democrats. Rep. Ted DeutchTheodore (Ted) Eliot DeutchGun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence House panel advances anti-gun violence legislation Gun debate to shape 2020 races MORE (D-Fla.) took to the floor Thursday morning, shortly before Pelosi's press conference, to argue that "words matter" and "anti-Semitism is worthy of being taken seriously on its own."
 
"Why are we unable to singularly condemn anti-Semitism? Why can't we call it anti-Semitism and show we've learned the lessons of history?" said Deutch, who is Jewish. "This shouldn't be so hard."
 
Omar's allies have come to her defense. Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBill Maher, Michael Moore spar over Democrats' strategy for 2020 Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight We must stand together against hatred MORE (D-Mich.), the other Muslim woman to join Congress this year, said Wednesday that Omar — who fled violence in her native Somalia and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before arriving in the U.S. — was simply trying to highlight human rights abuses committed by the Israeli government. 
 
"I know that the Congresswoman Ilhan Omar really tries to push back against oppression. And as a Palestinian I can tell you when she speaks about those issues, what I hear is her trying to help my grandmother in Palestine, in the West Bank. And saying that there are real actual, factual evidence to show that there's human rights violations," Tlaib said.
 
Omar, who apologized earlier this year after suggesting the pro-Israel lobbying groups are buying lawmaker support for Israel, has not apologized for her more recent comments invoking dual loyalty.
 
Pelosi on Thursday did not press Omar to do apologize again, but suggested she owes some of her colleagues an explanation. 
 
"She may need to explain that she did not — it's up to her to explain, but I do not believe that she understood the full weight of the words [she used]," Pelosi said.
 
"I understand how advocates come in with their enthusiasms, but when you cross that threshold into Congress your words weigh much more than when you're shouting at somebody outside," Pelosi added. "And I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude, but that she didn't have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people, where these words have a history and a cultural impact that may have been unknown."