Ilhan Omar Says Her Jewish Critics 'Haven't Been Engaging in Seeking Justice'

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Ilhan Omar outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington two weeks ago.
Ilhan Omar outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington two weeks ago.Credit: Evelyn Hockstein / Reuters

Rep. Ilhan Omar said she has no regret over her controversial statements on Jews and Israel and charged that Jewish Democratic congressional colleagues who have criticized her “haven't been engaging in seeking justice around the world.” 

In an interview with Jake Tapper on CNN, the Minnesota congresswoman was asked about a recent controversial tweet in which she was accused of making an equivalency between the United States and Israel with terrorist organizations like Hamas and the Taliban, along with past remarks that Jewish groups and Jewish members of Congress have characterized as falling into anti-Semitic tropes.  

Following a discussion of the recent incident, Tapper asked Omar about statements she made in past years. “In 2019, you said lawmakers support Israel because it’s “all about the Benjamins,” which implies that politicians only support Israel because of money,” Tapper said. “There was a tweet from 2012 when you said Israel had hypnotized the world. Do you understand why some of your fellow House Democrats, especially Jews, find that language anti-Semitic?”

Omar replied that she had “welcomed any time my colleagues have asked to have a conversation to learn from them, for them to learn from me.” 

She added: "I think it's really important for these [House] members to realize that they haven't been partners in justice. They haven't been equally engaging in seeking justice around the world and I think I will continue to do that. It is important for me as someone who knows what it feels like to experience injustice in ways that many of my colleagues don't - to be a voice in finding accountability."

Controversy around the Muslim congresswoman was reignited earlier this month following a tweet criticizing “unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban” in the context of pressing the Biden administration to drop its opposition to an investigation of alleged war crimes by the International Criminal Court. 

“Do you regret these comments?” Tapper asked her.

“No, I don’t,” replied Omar. “I tend to think that people around the world who have experienced injustice need to be able to have a place where they can go. And as a country that helped found the ICC and supported it, I think that it is really important for us to continue to find ways in which people can find justice around the world.”

Tapper continued to press her: “But what do you say to them? I hear everything you’re saying about your fight for justice, but what do you say to them when they say, ‘I hear what you’re saying, but the terms you’re using, the language you’re using, is anti-Semitic?'”

“I hear that,” Omar responded. “I have obviously clarified and, you know, apologized when I have felt that my words have offended. And it’s really important, right, as I’ve explained to my colleagues, they have engaged in Islamophobic tropes. I have yet to receive an apology.”

Responses to the interview were swift as right-wing politicians and media outlets spotlighted Omar’s remarks. 

The Republican Jewish Coalition condemned Omar in a tweet, and challenged the Democratic Party to “join us in calling out Omar for saying Jewish members of Congress aren't "partners in justice." 

But criticism of Omar’s disparagement of her Democratic colleagues as “not being partners in justice” on social media was not limited to the right, with some on the left, as well as Jewish journalists pointing out that many of those who found fault with Omar had strong records on civil and human rights. 

Some Jewish members of Congress leapt to Omar’s defense. Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline tweeted that “right wingers in Washington are once again claiming Rep. Ilhan Omar said something she didn’t say, and trying to create a controversy where there is none,” calling it “pathetic that they are (once again) demonizing a young woman of color to score political points.”

Omar expressed gratitude toward Cicilline, tweeting that it was the “mission” of her critics “to turn and twist everything I say until I am completely silenced. Demonizing voices for justice is part of their playbook and it won’t work here. I am grateful to colleagues like you who are my partners in our fight for justice and equality at home and abroad.”

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