The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution condemning bigotry, without directly referencing freshman Democrat Ilhan Omar or her anti-Semitic comments.
By Associated Press and World Israel News Staff
A one-sided 407-23 vote Thursday belied the emotional infighting over how to respond to Rep. lIhan Omar’s recent comments that House supporters of Israel have dual allegiances and that the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC pays off elected officials to support the Jewish state.
For days, Democrats wrestled with whether or how to punish the Minnesota Democratic lawmaker, arguing over whether Omar, a Muslim from Somalia, should be confronted based on her anti-Semitic remarks.
An earlier version focused more narrowly on anti-Semitism. The final resolution did not mention Omar by name.
Republicans generally joined in the favorable vote, though nearly two-dozen opposed the measure, one calling it a “sham.”
The argument was fueled in part by young, far-left lawmakers — and voters — who have become the new face of the Democratic majority in the House. These lawmakers are extremely critical of Israel and promote boycotts of the Jewish state, in addition to associating with activists who support designated terror organizations like Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), both of which promote and carry out the murder of Israeli civilians.
Omar’s rhetoric traffics in age-old anti-Semitic tropes and is taking Democrats to a place that leaves many uneasy. In 2012, she claimed on Twitter that “evil” Israel had “hypnotized the world,” accusing the nation of apartheid using the common yet false comparison to South Africa. In reality, Israeli law extends equal rights to all citizens, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.
Omar sparked a weeklong debate in Congress as fellow Democrats said her comments have no place in the party. She suggested Israel’s supporters were pushing lawmakers to take a pledge of “allegiance” to a foreign country, reviving a trope of dual loyalties. It wasn’t her first dip into such rhetoric.
The new congresswoman has been critical of the Jewish state in the past and apologized for those previous comments. But Omar has not apologized for this latest comment.
‘It’s not about her’
“It’s not about her. It’s about these forms of hatred,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote.
Pelosi said she did not believe that Omar understood the “weight of her words” or that they would be perceived by some as anti-Semitic.
The resolution approved Thursday condemns anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities “as hateful expressions of intolerance.” Omar, a Somali-American, and fellow Muslims Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Andre Carson of Indiana, issued a statement praising the “historic” vote as the first resolution to condemn “anti-Muslim bigotry.”
The seven-page document details a history of recent attacks not only against Jews in the United States but also Muslims, as it condemns all such discrimination as contradictory to “the values and aspirations” of the people of the United States.
The vote was delayed for a time on Thursday to include mention of Latinos to address concerns of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. It was inserted under a section on white supremacists who “weaponize hate for political gain” over a long list of “traditionally persecuted peoples.”
A faction of House Democrats wanted to bring a resolution on the floor simply condemning anti-Semitism in direct response to Omar’s comments. But others questioned whether a resolution was necessary at all and viewed it as unfairly singling out Omar
There remained frustration that the party that touts its diversity conducted such a messy and public debate about how to declare its opposition to bigotry.
“This shouldn’t be so hard,” Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said on the House floor.
Among the Republican dissenters, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a member of the GOP leadership, called the resolution “a sham put forward by Democrats to avoid condemning one of their own and denouncing vile anti-Semitism.”
Getting it right
Getting this debate right will be crucial for Democrats in 2020. U.S.-Israel policy is a prominent issue that is exposing the splits between the party’s core voters, its far-left flank and the more centrist Americans in Trump country the party hopes to reach.
“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong,” said presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent.
Other presidential contenders tried to walk a similar line, with the new face of the Democratic party’s hard left, House freshmen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, claiming, “[T]here’s been some really great progress we’ve made.”
California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said “we need to speak out against hate.” But she said she also believes “there is a critical difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism.”
Meanwhile, a statement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, “Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said, “Everyone is entitled to their opinion, they are allowed to have free speech in this country,” Gillibrand said. “But we don’t need to use anti-Semitic tropes or anti-Muslim tropes to be heard.”
In part, Democratic leaders were trying to fend off a challenge from Republicans on the issue.
They worry they could run into trouble on another bill, their signature ethics and voting reform package, if Republicans try to tack their own anti-Semitism bill on as an amendment. By voting Thursday, the House Democratic vote counters believed they could inoculate their lawmakers against such a move.