Ilhan Omar Spars With pro-Israel Democrats After Andrew Yang's BDS-Nazi Comparison

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks to the media at the U.S. Capitol, as Democrats debate one article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump, in Washington, U.S.
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks to the media at the U.S. Capitol, as Democrats debate one article of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump, in Washington, U.S. Credit: LEAH MILLIS / REUTERS
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON - The Democratic Party's internal war over Israel entered a new chapter over the past several days, with lawmakers, activists and lobbying groups sparring over trading accusations of racism over their respective definitions of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

The latest battle erupted when New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang denounced BDS in an opinion piece written in the Forward. "A Yang administration will push back against the BDS movement, which singles out Israel for unfair economic punishment. Not only is BDS rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses, it’s also a direct shot at New York City’s economy," he wrote.

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Progressive Jewish organizations denounced Yang's implicit comparison to boycotts of Jewish business in Nazi Germany, describing Yang's "false equivalencies" as dangerous and unneccesary. 

Marc Lamont Hill, a political commentator who was fired from CNN in 2018 for using the phrase "Free Palestine from the river to the sea," said Yang "grossly mischaracterized" the movement, which he argues prioritizes non-violent protests of conditions on the ground.

Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), a pro-Israel Democratic organization led by veteran pollster Mark Mellman that seeks to increase and ensure support for Israel within the Democratic Party, responded to Hill by claiming BDS is antisemitic by definition, adding that "people are entitled to express antisemitic views in this country, but aren't entitled to evade the label."

Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of Congress' most notable critics of Israeli policy toward Palestinians, called DMFI's tweet a lie, saying they were "either ignorant of the movement's positions or purposely misrepresenting them. BDS opposes Israel's denial of Palestinian rights & dignity.People are entitled to express their views in this country and should support this nonviolent movement."

New York City Mayoral candidate Andrew Yang speaks at a press conference on January 14, 2021 in New York City. Credit: Michael M. Santiago / AFP

DMFI responded to Omar with a video clip of her own remarks in 2018 calling BDS unhelpful in reaching a two-state solution juxtaposed with her later endorsement of the movement in 2019.

Pro-Israel advocates have accused Omar of antisemitism since she was elected to Congress in 2018. She has categorically denied this, while "unequivocally apologizing" for comments considered offensive and acknowledging she was learning about "the painful history of antisemitic tropes."

She was among the only lawmakers to voice objection in July 2019 to a bipartisan House resolution denouncing the BDS movement, and previously introduced a resolution defending Americans' "right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights." 

Israel barred Omar, along with fellow Rep. Rashida Tlaib, from visiting Israel in August 2019 due to her support of BDS. She is one of three Democrats, along with Tlaib and first-term Rep. Cori Bush, to publicly endorse the movement.

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