AJW Staff Report
As the Jewish World went to press this week, House Democratic leaders were planning to vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism — “a move meant to respond to anti-Israel comments made by Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar,” according to Roll Call.
The Washington, D.C.-based online news site reported: “Staff from the offices of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Ethics Chairman Ted Deutch worked on the resolution over the weekend, but the text has yet to be finalized, according to a senior Democratic aide.”
“The draft resolution ‘acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes’ and ‘rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.’ But it does not specifically rebuke Omar,” according to the Washington Post.
While elected officials in the nation’s capital were considering how to deal with Omar’s comments critical of Israel, the FBI in Minnesota was investigating a threat against the congresswoman, a call to “assassinate” her scrawled on a bathroom stall in a Holiday gas station in Rogers, a city northwest of Minneapolis.
“We are aware of that piece of graffiti at the convenience store and are looking into it with some of our law enforcement partners,” Kevin Smith, public affairs officer for the FBI Minneapolis Division, told the Pioneer Press.
The FBI is involved because Omar is a federal officeholder.
And the graffiti threat came on the heels of a controversy over a poster displayed in a West Virginia GOP booth that depicted Omar and equated her election to Congress as a sign of resurgent terrorism.
NPR reported the incident, which centered on a “display outside the House of Delegates chamber on [March 1] during a series of events around the state capitol for West Virginia’s GOP Day. The poster featured a photo of New York’s World Trade Center, ablaze on Sep. 11, 2001 with a caption that read ‘NEVER FORGET – YOU SAID.’ Just below that was a photo of Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who wears a hijab. The caption attached to that image read, ‘I AM PROOF – YOU HAVE FORGOTTEN.’”
The West Virginia Republican Party disavowed the display.
Back in Washington, the unusual condemnation by leading House Democrats of one of their own follows a report last week of comments made by the freshman Minnesota lawmaker at a public event in which she appeared to refer to domestic support for Israel as “allegiance to a foreign country.”
Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives powerful Appropriations Committee, was among those accusing Omar of invoking the anti-Semitic slur that Jews who support Israel are divided in their loyalties.
“Anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty are equally painful and must also be roundly condemned,” Lowey tweeted Sunday. “I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel. I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.”
In a bookstore event last week in Washington, Omar, who is Muslim and has tussled at least twice before with critics for using what they described as anti-Semitic tropes, said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
That remark was condemned by Engel, Nadler and Rep. Max Rose of New York, a freshman like Omar. Engel called on Omar to apologize for her “vile anti-Semitic slur.”
Responding to Lowey, Omar tweeted: “Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee.”
And Lowey responded, “No member of Congress is asked to swear allegiance to another country,” she said. “Throughout history, Jews have been accused of dual loyalty, leading to discrimination and violence, which is why these accusations are so hurtful.”
In previous incidents, for which Omar apologized, she suggested that Israel had “hypnotized” the world and that the pro-Israel lobbying had bought its influence on Capitol Hill. Her supporters say she is merely criticizing Israel and that her comments are being taken out of context in order to discredit her.
But even some liberal critics of Israel have said that Omar should be aware of the language that Jews and others regard as historically hateful and hurtful.
Josh Marshall of the liberal Talking Points Memo tweeted: “Omar has lots of critics who want to silence anyone in mainstream politics who is critical of Israel. She also routinely expresses her views with words and phrases charged [with] deep anti-Semitic histories. Hard to care at this point whether that’s from misunderstanding or animus.”
JTA’s Ron Kampeas contributed to this report.
(American Jewish World, March 2019)