'Islamophobic Tropes Are Offensive': Ilhan Omar Slams Jewish Democratic Critics

12 Jewish Democratic lawmakers criticized Omar for comparing Israel and the United States to Hamas and the Taliban, despite the Minnesota congresswoman's attempts to provide clarification

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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Ilhan Omar attends a concert in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May.
Ilhan Omar attends a concert in Minneapolis, Minnesota in May.Credit: Nichoals Pfosi / Reuters
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ilhan Omar sharply criticized the 12 Jewish House Democrats lawmakers who urged her to clarify a statement that they say places the United States and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.

"It's shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for 'clarification' and not just call," Omar tweeted. None of those who signed reached out to Omar over the course of the day, despite the Minnesota congresswoman's attempts to provide clarification.

"The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment and silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable," the Minnesota congresswoman continued.

"Citing an open case against Israel, U.S., Hamas and Taliban in the ICC isn’t comparison or from 'deeply seated prejudice.' You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims, but history has taught us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever," she added.

Conservative media and right-wing publications accused Omar of comparing America to Hamas and the Taliban. She shared on Twitter audio of a death threat she and her staff received following the coverage, saying it is "incited directly by [articles and far-right politicians] and enabled by a political culture – in both parties – that allows and often fuels Islamophobia."

Omar offered further clarification on Thursday. "On Monday, I asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about ongoing International Criminal Court investigations," she said.

"To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel," she continued. "I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems."

The 12 lawmakers — Reps. Brad Schneider, Jake Auchincloss, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Josh Gottheimer, Elaine Luria, Kathy Manning, Jerrold Nadler, Dean Phillips, Kim Schrier, Brad Sherman, Debbie Wasserman Schultz — criticized Omar after she shared a video of her questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday during a House committee hearing on what mechanism victims of alleged war crimes could access outside the International Criminal Court.

“I haven’t seen evidence in either [the Afghanistan or Gaza conflict] that domestic courts both can and will prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Omar originally said to Blinken. “Where do we think victims are supposed to go for justice, and what justice mechanisms do you support?” Her subsequent tweet, however, read that “we must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” continuing “we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

"Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice," the Jewish lawmakers' statement read.

"The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups. We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the U.S. and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban," they added.

A Democratic aide said Wednesday's meeting was meant to focus on antisemitism and was "frankly hijacked" to debate the statement on Omar. "It was not a meeting that was called to take a stance on Rep. Omar's 'antisemitism' — professors were invited to speak to them about antisemitism," the aide told Haaretz. "That's where it veered and that's pretty upsetting."

The Jewish Democratic Council of America said it would be meeting with Omar during its upcoming Week of Action to discuss her recent comments, as well as other priorities of Jewish Democrats in Minnesota. "There is no equivalence between Israel and terrorist organizations such as Hamas," it said.

'Sick obsession'

Rep. Rashida Tlaib criticized lawmakers from both parties for "demonizing" Omar, saying "their obsession with policing her is sick. She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible. That's better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said she was "pretty sick and tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization and public targeting of [Omar] coming from our caucus." She added that "they have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations and leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her."

Rep. Betty McCollum, too, came to Omar's defense. “When state actors, including democracies, or non-state actors, such as terrorist organizations, engage in acts that indiscriminately kill civilians or commit gross violations of human rights such as torture or indefinite detention, there should be internationally recognized mechanisms to achieve accountability and enforce agreed upon humanitarian standards," she told Haaretz.

"Rep. Omar asked a serious question which is her right as a member of Congress, but the hypocrites at the National Republican Congressional Committee, including Chairman Tom Emmer, should be reminded of their silence when the Trump administration sat down with the Taliban to negotiate a diplomatic agreement without the Afghan government while American service members and Afghan civilians were being attacked and killed,” McCollum added.

Rep. Pramilia Jayapal, chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, called Omar a deeply valued member with a critical and necessary voice. "We cannot ignore a right-wing media echo chamber that has deliberately and routinely attacked a Black, Muslim woman in Congress, distorting her views and intentions, and resulting in threats against Rep. Omar and her staff," Jayapal said, urging colleagues to not amplify such bad faith tactics.

Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Cori Bush criticized the Jewish Democrats' statement, saying "imagine if Congress was as outraged by what Palestinians endure daily" and "enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia," respectively.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman noted that "when a woman, person of color or Muslim speaks out against injustice, backlash ensures. When [Omar] speaks out, the vitriol is compounded by her being all three." He called on Democrats to recognize biases that fuel personal attacks and to defend colleagues.

The Democratic Leadership — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Caucus Vice Chair Pete Aguilar — issued a joint statement saying they "welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban."

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