Omar: I wasn’t equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)
Greg Nash

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Thursday sought to clarify controversial remarks she made earlier this week during a House hearing, saying she was not equating the U.S. and Israel with terrorist organizations.

“On Monday, I asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about … ongoing International Criminal Court investigations. To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel,” she said in a statement.

“I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” she added.

Omar’s latest defense sought to quell outrage from fellow Democrats about her questioning of Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

The Minnesota Democrat pressed Blinken over International Criminal Court investigations of alleged crimes by the Taliban and the U.S. in Afghanistan, in addition to allegations against Hamas and Israel in the Gaza conflict.

In a Monday tweet with a video highlighting her questioning, Omar wrote: “We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

Late Wednesday night, a group of a dozen Jewish Democrats who support Israel issued a joint statement calling on Omar to “clarify” her comments.

“The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups,” the 12 Democrats, led by Rep. Brad Schneider (Ill.), said in the joint statement. “We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.”

Omar’s latest statement reiterated her previous attempts to clarify that she was asking about ongoing investigations about human rights abuses by numerous groups.

“Citing an open case against Israel, US, Hamas & Taliban in the ICC isn’t comparison or from ‘deeply seated prejudice’. You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims but history has thought us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever,” Omar tweeted Wednesday.

But Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, also implied late Wednesday night that her fellow Democrats were unfairly singling her out because of inherent anti-Muslim bias and engaging in false tropes that Muslims support terrorism.

“The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive,” Omar tweeted. “The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”

Omar’s office said that the congresswoman and her staff have been facing an increase in death threats since the controversy over her questioning of Blinken began this week.

On Wednesday night, Omar posted profanity-laced audio of a man saying that “Muslims are terrorists” and calling her a racial slur. The person also said that “every anti-American communist piece of shit that works for her, I hope you get what’s f—ing coming for you.”

Omar’s office also said that she tried to reach out to the Democrats who crafted the joint statement, but her calls weren’t returned. A spokesperson for Schneider didn’t return a request for comment from The Hill.

The six top-ranking members of House Democratic leadership issued a rare joint statement saying that they “welcome” Omar’s latest clarification.

“Legitimate criticism of the policies of both the United States and Israel is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate. And indeed, such criticism is essential to the strength and health of our democracies. But drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) said.

“We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban,” they added.

Schneider appeared to accept Omar’s latest clarification as sufficient.

“I am pleased @Ilhan heard our concerns about her tweet, issued a clarification, and agrees with our point. I hope all can avoid such offhanded statements in the future as we work together to support American jobs & families,” Schneider tweeted.

Shortly before Omar issued her latest statement, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had called on Pelosi to take action.

“Rep. Omar’s anti-Semitic & anti-American comments are abhorrent. Speaker Pelosi’s continued failure to address the issues in her caucus sends a message to the world that Democrats are tolerant of anti-Semitism and sympathizing with terrorists,” McCarthy tweeted Thursday. “It’s time for the Speaker to act.”

Fellow progressives came to Omar’s defense, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), the only other Muslim woman in Congress, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).

“I am tired of colleagues (both D+R) demonizing @IlhanMN. Their obsession with policing her is sick. She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible. That’s better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics,” Tlaib tweeted.

“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus. They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.

Omar and Jewish Democrats who are supporters of Israel have clashed repeatedly in the past. In 2019, the House adopted a resolution broadly condemning antisemitism and Islamophobia after Omar characterized the pro-Israel lobby as a “political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Democratic leaders also joined Jewish Democrats earlier in 2019 in condemning Omar after she said “it’s all about the Benjamins baby,” in reference to $100 bills, while describing what motivates American politicians to back Israel.

Omar apologized for those comments and said she never intended to offend “my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.”

Updated: 4:57 p.m.

Tags Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Antony Blinken Brad Schneider Hakeem Jeffries Hamas Ilhan Omar Israel Katherine Clark Kevin McCarthy Nancy Pelosi Pete Aguilar Rashida Tlaib Steny Hoyer US

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