House Democratic Leaders Condemn Muslim Lawmaker's Remarks About Israel

1 hour ago
Originally published on February 11, 2019 11:21 am

Updated at 2:15 p.m. ET

House Democratic leaders released a joint statement condemning one of the two first Muslim women to serve in Congress for comments on social media widely condemned as anti-Semitic.

"We are and will always be strong supporters of Israel in Congress because we understand that our support is based on shared values and strategic interests. Legitimate criticism of Israel's policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share," said the statement led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. "But Congresswoman Omar's use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel's supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments."

The statement was issued jointly with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Caucus Vice Chairwoman Katherine Clark.

The leadership statement comes after two Jewish House Democrats began circulating a letter Monday to their colleagues asking them to join in asking party leadership to condemn anti-Semitism citing "recent rhetoric from certain members within our Caucus."

The letter, by Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Elaine Luria of Virginia, does not name lawmakers but it is clearly a reference to freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who is the target of recent criticism on the left and right for comments seen as both overt and subtly anti-Semitic.

Meanwhile, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a statement that the GOP will "take action this week to ensure the House speaks out against this hatred and stands with Israel and the Jewish people." McCarthy did not offer specifics, but Republicans are considering options that include trying to force a vote on a resolution led Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., that condemns anti-Semitism broadly and specifically calls out Omar.

A spokesman for Omar has not responded to NPR's request for comment.

"We must speak out when any Member — Democrat or Republican — uses harmful tropes and stereotypes, levels accusations of dual loyalty, or makes reckless statements like those yesterday," the letter states, a clear reference to Omar's tweets over the weekend in which she questioned the financial relationship between AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby, and members of Congress.

Omar is one of the two first Muslim women to serve in Congress; the other is fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.

For weeks, congressional Republicans have criticized both women for what they see as anti-Semitic rhetoric in their past, and Omar's placement on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but the letter is the first official act by some of their own Democratic colleagues.

Another Democratic freshman lawmaker who is also Jewish, Max Rose of New York, criticized Omar for her tweets. "Congresswoman Omar's comments are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself," he wrote. Other Democrats, including Chelsea Clinton, also tweeted criticism of Omar's rhetoric.

A growing number of House Democrats are weighing in on the controversy. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York condemned Omar's tweets Monday morning. "It is deeply disappointing and disturbing to hear Representative Ilhan Omar's choice of words in her exchange with a journalist yesterday, wherein she appears to traffic in old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money," he said. "Her words are deeply hurtful and offensive."

Separately the Anti-Defamation League, an outside group formed to fight hate speech and anti-Semitism, called on top House leaders to take immediate action to condemn Rep. Omar's recent comments, citing a tweet where she suggested politicians were being influenced by donations from Jewish groups.

"As Americans and Jews, we expect our politicians to condemn bigotry, not to fuel it. Words matter. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in the U.S. and abroad, Rep. Omar is promoting the ugly, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews have an outsized influence over politics," Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of ADL, said in a written statement.

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