Sanders defends Omar: Can't equate anti-Semitism with 'legitimate criticism' of Israel

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California On The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings MORE (I-Vt.) defended Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarOcasio-Cortez jabs 'plutocratic' late entrants to 2020 field Krystal Ball: Billionaires panicking over Sanders candidacy Omar renews claim Stephen Miller is a 'white nationalist' amid calls for him to step down MORE (D-Minn.) on Wednesday amid an avalanche of criticism she’s received over comments about Israel that some have slammed as anti-Semitic.

Sanders, who is running for president in 2020 and in 2016 became the first Jewish politician to win a state's presidential primary, said he fears a House resolution intended to rebuke Omar over the comments could end up stifling legitimate debate over the Israeli government’s policies.

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“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace,” he said in a statement to The Hill. 

“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate," he continued. “That's wrong.”

Omar finds herself in hot water as House leadership weighs a resolution condemning a wide range of discrimination that is intended to rebuke her recent comments. Democrats held a heated internal meeting Wednesday to determine if the legislation should single out the Minnesota progressive.

Omar sparked controversy last week for saying pro-Israel groups are pushing for “allegiance to a foreign country,” mimicking historical charges of dual loyalty that have historically been levied against Jews.

She first sparked bipartisan ire last month when she said some representatives’ support for Israel was fueled by donations from pro-Israel lobbying groups, saying it was “all about the Benjamins baby” and later noting that members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee donated to members of Congress who criticized her. 

House Democrats faced criticism of their proposed resolution because of its initial sole focus on anti-Semitism over discrimination faced by other groups. They have delayed a vote on the legislation as the wording is adjusted.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman 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.) also said Democrats have no intention of removing Omar from the panel, despite calls from many Republicans to do so.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE panned House Democrats for not taking a stronger stance against Omar’s statements, calling their response “shameful.”