Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias
House progressives rallied behind Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Thursday as she sought to clarify that her discussion of alleged international human rights abuses wasn’t drawing false equivalence between the U.S. and terrorist groups, with some arguing that she is being held to a racist double standard.
Omar and others accused the group of 12 Jewish House Democrats and vocal supporters of Israel who issued a statement asking her to “clarify” her comments of unfairly targeting her out of inherent anti-Muslim and racial bias.
The pushback from Omar’s allies laid bare the tensions in the highly diverse House Democratic caucus, where lawmakers of a wide array of ethnicities and religions have at times accused each other of being insensitive to historic injustices.
“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,” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who along with Omar is one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.
And Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who is Black, further accused fellow Democrats of engaging in racism against Omar, a Somali refugee.
“I’m not surprised when Republicans attack Black women for standing up for human rights. But when it’s Democrats, it’s especially hurtful. We’re your colleagues. Talk to us directly. Enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia,” Bush said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) similarly argued that Omar’s questioning of Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a House Foreign Affairs Committee this week was blown out of proportion.
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.
“Stop the bad faith attempts to take @IlhanMN’s words out of context. She called a simple question,” echoed Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.).
Ocasio-Cortez further chastised her fellow Democrats for attacking Omar publicly instead of hashing out their differences privately, given the threats of violence that Omar faces on a regular basis.
“They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her,” the New York Democrat said.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the Congressional Progressive Caucus leader, suggested that Democrats’ ire toward Omar was misplaced.
“I think my colleagues should just — instead of taking on Ilhan — they should focus on justice and human rights here at home and around the world. I think it’s a big brouhaha over, frankly, not very much,” Jayapal told The Hill.
Jayapal also issued a statement urging Democrats to “stand together against cynical attempts to divide our caucus.”
“We cannot ignore a right-wing media echo chamber that has deliberately and routinely attacked a Black, Muslim woman in Congress, distorting her views and intentions, and resulting in threats against Rep. Omar and her staff. We urge our colleagues not to abet or amplify such divisive and bad-faith tactics,” Jayapal said on behalf of the Progressive Caucus.
Omar clarified in a statement on Thursday that “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
Omar explained that she was asking Blinken about ongoing International Criminal Court investigations regarding alleged crimes by the U.S. and the Taliban in Afghanistan, as well as Hamas and Israel in the Gaza conflict.
“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,” Omar said.
Omar drew ire from Republicans as well as some fellow Democrats for posting a tweet Monday with video from Monday’s hearing and the caption: “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.”
Republicans and the Democrats who took issue with that tweet expressed outrage that Omar’s wording appeared to be equating the U.S. and Israel with terrorist groups like the Taliban and Hamas.
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice,” the 12 Jewish Democrats, led by Rep. Brad Schneider (Ill.), said in a joint statement late Wednesday night.
“The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups. We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban,” they said.
Omar’s office said she tried to speak with her colleagues before they issued the joint statement, but her calls were not returned. A spokesperson for Schneider didn’t respond to an inquiry from The Hill to confirm that version of events.
“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,” Omar tweeted in immediate response to the 12 Democrats after the statement went out late Wednesday night.
Omar went on to accuse her colleagues of engaging in “Islamophobic tropes” which falsely suggest that Muslims support terrorism.
“The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable,” Omar said.
Omar’s subsequent statement on Thursday afternoon was more diplomatic while reiterating her defense of her questioning at the hearing and didn’t take aim at her colleagues.
Following Omar’s latest clarification, Schneider appeared to take a conciliatory step.
“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.
By contrast, Omar apologized in 2019 after tweeting that “it’s all about the Benjamins baby” — in reference to $100 bills — as her theory for what truly motivates pro-Israel American politicians.
Weeks later in 2019, the House passed a resolution broadly condemning antisemitism and other forms of hate after Omar described the pro-Israel lobby as a “political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Jewish Democrats at the time said that the comment invoked antisemitic tropes about dual loyalties.
The top six House Democratic leaders — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (Mass.), Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.) and Vice Caucus Chair Pete Aguilar (Calif.) — issued a joint statement Thursday 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,” they said.
Tlaib tweeted that House Democratic leaders “should be ashamed” following the release of the statement.
“Freedom of speech doesn’t exist for Muslim women in Congress. The benefit of the doubt doesn’t exist for Muslim women in Congress,” she wrote. “House Democratic leadership should be ashamed of its relentless, exclusive tone policing of Congresswomen of color.”
Mike Lillis contributed.