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

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders has right goal, wrong target in fight to help low-wage workers Democrats in standoff over minimum wage Sanders votes against Biden USDA nominee Vilsack MORE (I-Vt.) defended Rep. Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarJamaal Bowman's mother dies of COVID-19: 'I share her legacy with all of you' To address global fragility, we must start locally Omar calls for released Saudi women's rights activist to be allowed to leave country 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 EngelProgressives target Manchin, Sinema with new PAC State Department sets up new bureau for cybersecurity and emerging technologies How Congress dismissed women's empowerment 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 TrumpRomney: 'Pretty sure' Trump would win 2024 GOP nomination if he ran for president Pence huddles with senior members of Republican Study Committee Trump says 'no doubt' Tiger Woods will be back after accident MORE panned House Democrats for not taking a stronger stance against Omar’s statements, calling their response “shameful.”