House Democrats clashed during a closed-door meeting Wednesday over how best to respond to Representative Ilhan Omar’s (D., Minn.) repeated use of anti-Semitic tropes to impugn the motivations and patriotism of her pro-Israel colleagues.
A number of Omar’s fellow progressives lashed out at Democratic leadership for agreeing to vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in response to Omar’s recent claim that her pro-Israel colleagues are motivated by a nefarious “dual loyalty” to the U.S. and Israel.
Representative Bonnie Watson-Coleman (D., N.J.) was the first to question the leadership’s decision to vote on the resolution and suggested it played into the hands of Republicans and “the media,” according to the Washington Post.
“We’ve individually and collectively already responded to the fact that we oppose all ‘-isms’ that do not treat people in this country fairly and justly,” she said. “To continue to engage in this discussion is simply an opportunity to give both the media and Republicans distractions from our agenda. We’ve got important work to do.”
Representative Cedric Richmond (D., La.) suggested that President Trump, not Democratic leaders, should be responsible for policing bigotry within the caucus.
“I think there’s a big rise in anti-Semitism and racism, and that’s a bigger conversation we need to be having.” Richmond reportedly said during the meeting. “But it starts at 1600 Pennsylvania. It doesn’t start with one member out of 435 members of Congress.”
Representative Ayanna Pressley (D., Mass.) echoed Richmond’s remarks during the meeting, suggesting it would be hypocritical to condemn religious bigotry without addressing Trump’s rhetoric. “We need to have equity in our outrage,” she said.
“The occupant of this White House who is seeding every form of hate, emboldening it with racist rhetoric and policies, that is who we all need to be focused on, and this is a distraction,” Pressley told the Post after the meeting.
Speaking at a progressive town-hall event in Washington, D.C, last week, Omar argued that the anti-Semitism accusations she’s faced since being elected represent a concerted effort to shutdown debate over how the U.S. should engage with Israel.
“What I’m fearful of — because [Representative] Rashida [Tlaib] and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim,” said Omar.
“So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” she later added.
The remarks drew immediate public criticism from senior House Democrats Nita Lowey and Elliot Engel of New York.
Lawmakers must be able to debate w/o prejudice or bigotry. I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel. I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.
— Nita Lowey (@NitaLowey) March 2, 2019
“Her comments were outrageous and deeply hurtful, and I ask that she retract them, apologize, and commit to making her case on policy issues without resorting to attacks that have no place in the Foreign Affairs Committee or the House of Representatives,” Engel said in a statement on Friday.
It remains unclear whether the resolution, which was amended earlier this week to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry as well as anti-Semitism, will receive a vote.