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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDeVos knocks free college push as 'socialist takeover of higher education' The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Capital One — Giuliani denies discussing preemptive pardon with Trump Manchin: Ocasio-Cortez 'more active on Twitter than anything else' MORE (I-Vt.) defended Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMeet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far GOP congresswoman-elect wants to form Republican 'Squad' called 'The Force' 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 EngelDeLauro wins Steering Committee vote for Appropriations chair Top donor allegedly sold access to key politicians for millions in foreign cash: report Meet the three Democrats who could lead foreign affairs in the House 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 TrumpTrump alludes to possible 2024 run in White House remarks Trump threatens to veto defense bill over tech liability shield Tiger King's attorney believes they're close to getting pardon from Trump MORE panned House Democrats for not taking a stronger stance against Omar’s statements, calling their response “shameful.”