Pelosi, leaders seek to squelch Omar controversy with rare joint statement
With a rare joint statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her entire leadership team on Thursday sought to quell a growing controversy over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minn.) remarks equating war crimes committed by the U.S. and Israel to those by the Taliban and Hamas terrorist groups.
The joint statement by Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) and Vice Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) came after Omar responded to a request from a dozen Jewish House Democrats to “clarify” what she meant in her original remarks.
“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,” the Democratic leadership team said in its statement.
“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,” the statement adds.
In her clarification, Omar, a progressive Minnesota Democrat and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, explained that her original comments had focused on ongoing International Criminal Court probes — “not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel.”
“I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” said Omar, a Somali refugee.
That clarification appeared to satisfy Pelosi and her team, who said in their Thursday statement: “We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban.”
Omar’s original comments, made Monday as she questioned Secretary of State Anthony Blinken during a House hearing, were quickly becoming a major political headache for Democrats. Conservative media outlets ripped Omar’s remarks, and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and the House GOP campaign arm called on Pelosi to punish Omar.
Late Wednesday, Omar took friendly fire as a dozen Jewish House Democrats, led by Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), issued a joint statement calling on Omar to clarify her remarks and objecting to any comparison of the U.S. and Israel and the Taliban and Hamas.
At first, Omar was defiant, accusing her Democratic colleagues of engaging in “islamophobic tropes” and trying to harass and silence her. Omar allies said these Democrats had put her safety at risk.
It’s shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for “clarification” and not just call.
The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable. https://t.co/37dy2UduW0
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) June 10, 2021
But hours later, Omar backed down, issuing a more nuanced statement that explained that she was speaking about specific human rights investigations rather than making a “moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel.”