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 LoweyKey GOP senator: 'We need a breakthrough' on spending talks On The Money: Supreme Court temporarily blocks House subpoena of Trump financial records | Trump touts 'cordial' meeting with Fed chief | Stopgap funding measure includes census money, military pay raise McConnell backs 'clean' stopgap spending bill through Dec. 20 MORE (D-N.Y.), Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation House Democrats pull subpoena for ex-Trump national security official MORE (D-N.Y.) and Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to hold markup Wednesday on marijuana decriminalization bill House to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' 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 DeutchEthics sends memo to lawmakers on SCIF etiquette Pelosi signs bill making animal cruelty a federal crime Ethics panel extends probe into Tlaib 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 TlaibAyanna Pressley introduces extensive criminal justice reform resolution Ethics panel extends probe into Tlaib Ocasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field 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."