KGOU

Rep. Ilhan Omar's Comments — Viewed By Some As Anti-Semitic — Has Divided Democrats

Mar 6, 2019
Originally published on March 6, 2019 5:09 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A freshman Democrat on Capitol Hill is being accused once again of anti-Semitism, and Democrats are divided over what to do about it. The representative is Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. In response to her latest remarks, Democratic leaders had planned to vote today on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. They postponed it after meeting resistance from lawmakers who came to Omar's defense. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis has this report.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Congresswoman Ilhan Omar remained silent during a House Democratic meeting today, but she is the cause of much debate. It's about this comment she made at an event at a Washington D.C. coffee shop last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ILHAN OMAR: I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.

DAVIS: That country is Israel. And for many, her words smacked of the dual loyalty smear that has been used to persecute Jews throughout history. Democrats like California's Juan Vargas are deeply offended by Omar's words.

JUAN VARGAS: This dual loyalty charge has led to the mass murder of millions of Jews in history. I'm not sure that everyone understands how grave this issue is.

DAVIS: Top Jewish Democrats in Congress, like House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, are asking for an apology that Omar is refusing to give this time. Last month, Omar did apologize for a couple of tweets that also played on anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish money and influence in American politics. She's also privately reached out to Jewish colleagues like Illinois Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky.

JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Personally, for example, embraced me and expressed her apology for that. To me as a Jew, I accept that apology. I do not believe that she is an anti-Semite.

DAVIS: And neither do a growing number of Omar's liberal allies. New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez criticized party leaders on Twitter for planning to vote on a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism as a backhanded rebuke of Omar before letting Democrats air their concerns in private. Leaders have since pumped the brakes on that resolution. They say they're rewording it and have not scheduled a vote. Washington Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who leads a faction of progressives, says this has all only served to give Republicans a new line of political attack.

PRAMILA JAYAPAL: Again, we just have to understand that the Republicans are dying to divide us. And everybody in our caucus needs to stand united about supporting all of our members.

DAVIS: Republicans are stepping up attacks against Omar, like this one from House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney just this morning.

LIZ CHENEY: Representative Omar embodies a vile, hate-filled, anti-Semitic, anti-Israel bigotry.

DAVIS: Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is calling for her removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, but Democrats aren't willing to go there just yet. Here's California Democratic Congressman Ro Khanna.

RO KHANNA: If it becomes a pattern where every month or something, something is happening, then that's a different matter. But I know her. And I think she's going to learn from these experiences.

DAVIS: Omar has made clear she will continue to be a critic of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy. She's avoiding media interviews, but she's defending herself on Twitter. We must be willing to combat hate of all kinds while also calling out oppression of all kinds, she tweeted. I will do my best to live up to that. Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.