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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders opposes Biden Interior nominee in procedural vote Briahna Joy Gray on how Sanders changed the healthcare conversation Sanders 'delighted' DeSantis asked White House to import Canadian prescription drugs MORE (I-Vt.) defended Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarHillary Clinton backs Shontel Brown in Ohio congressional race The Hill's Morning Report - Dems to go-it-alone on infrastructure as bipartisan plan falters Democrat says he won't introduce resolution to censure Greene 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 EngelDemocrats call on Blinken to set new sexual misconduct policies at State Department Lawmakers on hot mic joke 'aisle hog' Engel absent from Biden address: 'He'd wait all day' Bowman to deliver progressive response to Biden's speech to Congress 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 TrumpNorth Carolina Senate passes trio of election measures 14 Republicans vote against making Juneteenth a federal holiday Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos MORE panned House Democrats for not taking a stronger stance against Omar’s statements, calling their response “shameful.”