Democrats are split over how to handle Congresswoman Omar’s latest anti-Semitic remarks

Newly elected United States House of Representatives Ilhan Omar has claimed that pro-Israel Americans have “allegiance to a foreign country” following her accusation last month that pro-Israel groups are bribing members of Congress. Representative Eliot Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in turn accused Rep. Omar of making a “vile anti-Semitic slur” and demanded that she retract and apologize. Democratic leaders forced her to apologize and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer warned of “further action” if she persisted.

This week, the Democrats promised to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on Wednesday, hoping that would solve the problem. However, under pressure from the radicals in the caucus, Democrats delayed their vote and watered down the resolution to include almost every other group that could conceivably have been a target of discrimination. The text failed to mention Rep. Omar and after the vote Thursday she offered no statement of contrition. Instead, Rep. Omar celebrated what she called “the first time we have ever voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation’s history.” This claim is historically inaccurate, as Congress voted to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry in the days after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

Several Democrats were quick to make excuses for the comment. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday that she would not ask Rep. Omar to apologize, saying, “I do not believe she understood the full weight of the words.” Fellow ‘Justice Democrat’ Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “I think it’s a learning experience. It’s part of the fact that when we elect the most diverse Democrats in Congress that we have in pretty much ever, it means that we’re we have new communities at the table, new conversations that need to be had. We have to learn how to have conversations differently every time. So I think it’s just part of a learning process that we have as a country, frankly.” Rep. Jan Schakowsky said, “I think this is a learning moment for her” and suggested that her repeated anti-Semitism be met with more understanding because she is a Somalian refugee.

Earlier this year, Ms. Omar also apologized for a 2012 tweet in which she claimed Israel had “hypnotized” the world and committed “evil doings.” President Donald Trump, who daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner are Jewish, criticized Democrats for failing to condemn Rep. Omar for her anti-Semitic comments, saying, “They’ve become an anti-Israel party, they have become an anti-Jewish party, and that’s too bad.”

After critics described it as an attempt to mask Rep. Omar’s antisemitic comments, the President said, “I thought that vote was a disgrace, and so does everybody else, if you get an honest answer from politicians, they thought it was a disgrace.

Many Republicans, and even some Democrat members of Congress, have criticized the party for not going far enough and being too appeasing to this rising antisemitic sentiment inside the fringes of the Democrat Party as represented by Rep. Omar’s views. Rep. Liz Cheney was one of 23 Republican members to vote against the resolution, describing it in a statement on Thursday as “a sham put forward by Democrats to avoid condemning one of their own and denouncing vile anti-Semitism.” Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch also criticized the vote on the House floor Thursday, saying, “It feels like we’re only able to call the use of antisemitic language by any colleague of ours if we’re addressing all forms of hatred, and it feels like we can’t say it’s antisemitism unless everyone agrees that it’s antisemitism.

Several Democrats, speaking on condition of anonymity, described Rep. Omar’s repeated antisemitic episodes as “the elephant in the room” distracting from what Democrats are trying to do in their first few months of a new House majority heading into the all-important 2020 presidential election. As such, these Democrats say they are seeking out a primary challenger in Minnesota’s fifth congressional district to remove her from office in the 2020 congressional elections. 

As one Democrat said: 

Many Democrats simply are simply too afraid to say anything because Islamophobia has become the knee jerk reaction to anyone who dares criticize her. To be labeled a racist or Islamophobe for simply calling out what we all know to be abhorrent, is not just a slippery slope, it’s deeply troubling. And it’s forcing allies out of the party. To say that Democratic leadership doesn’t know what to do would be an understatement. They are in a state of total paralysis. Ilhan rode into Congress with Ocasio-Cortez, and is, unfortunately, becoming more and more popular along with her. Omar represents a faction of the party that is, frankly, anti-intellectual. Their flirtation with religious extremism exemplifies that. A primary challenge wouldn’t just be healthy, it’s absolutely necessary. The longer Ilhan Omar remains in office, the longer we lose credibility in calling out extremism in all forms. It is a total quagmire.