Freshman Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar is once again facing criticism and charges of anti-Semitism from her own party’s leadership for comments about the political influence of Israel.
On Friday, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., called on Omar to apologize for “a vile, anti-Semitic slur” she made at a town hall event in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday where she suggested Israel demands “allegiance” from American lawmakers.
“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,” the congresswoman from Minnesota said in a video of the event shared on Facebook.
She was joined at the event by Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.; Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.; and Mark Pocan, D-Wis.
Omar and Tlaib are the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Omar said she was concerned that because of their religion, “a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, (think) that everything we say about Israel (is) anti-Semitic because we are Muslim.”
She said the charge of anti-Semitism is “designed to end the debate” about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
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Omar said she was “sensitive to” and “pained by” accusations of intolerance. But she added that “it’s almost as if every single time we say something, regardless of what it is we say,” she and Tlaib are “labeled” and “that ends the discussion because we end up defending that and nobody ever gets to have the proper debate of what is happening with Palestine.”
Critics said Omar’s remarks played into old doubts about the loyalty of American Jews.
“The charge of dual loyalty not only raises the ominous specter of classic anti-Semitism, but it is also deeply insulting to the millions upon millions of patriotic Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, who stand by our democratic ally, Israel,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said in a statement.
Engel said it was “unacceptable and deeply offensive to question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the Israel-U.S. relationship,” in a statement on Friday. “Worse, Representative Omar’s comments leveled that charge by invoking a vile anti-Semitic slur.
“This episode is especially disappointing following so closely on another instance of Ms. Omar seeming to invoke an anti-Semitic stereotype,” Engel said, referring to her controversial statement last month that money from AIPAC was used to buy support for Israel.
“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,” he said.
Omar responded to the criticism in a series of tweets Sunday.
First, she replied to a tweet from Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who wrote that “lawmakers must be able to debate” without “prejudice or bigotry.”
“Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress,” Omar tweeted.
“I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks,” Omar wrote in another tweet.
“My Americanness is questioned by the President and the @GOP on a daily basis, yet my colleagues remain silent,” she added. “I know what it means to be American and no one will ever tell me otherwise.”
“Being opposed to Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic,” she said, referencing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am grateful to the many Jewish allies who have spoken out and said the same.”
Last month, Omar sparked outrage when she tweeted that American lawmakers’ lack of criticism for Israeli policies was “all about Benjamins” and AIPAC’s influence. The remarks drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., demanded that she apologize.
Omar did apologize for – and has since deleted – the tweets. She also deleted a 2012 tweet that had been criticized for claiming Israel had “hypnotized the world” into ignoring its treatment of Palestinians.
“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole,” she said in a statement on Feb. 11.
“That is why I unequivocally apologize,” she said, although she added that she was not apologizing for “the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil fuel industry.”
When asked about Omar’s remarks at Wednesday’s town hall, spokesman Jeremy Slevin referred to Omar’s previous apology and told the Associated Press that “we must distinguish between criticism of a particular faith and fair critiques of lobbying groups.”
“She has consistently spoken out about the undue influence of lobbying groups for foreign interests of all kinds and her comments were about just that. To suggest otherwise is an inaccurate reading of her remarks,” he said.
House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has objected to Omar’s placement on the House Foreign Affairs Committee since she was appointed to the seat in January because of her criticisms of Israel.
On Friday, a poster linking her to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was put on display as part of a Republican event in the West Virginia statehouse. The poster sparked an angry confrontation that resulted in one doorkeeper being injured and the sergeant-at-arms’ resignation after she reportedly said that “all Muslims are terrorists.”
“No wonder why I am on the ‘Hitlist’ of a domestic terrorist and ‘Assassinate Ilhan Omar’ is written on my local gas stations,” Omar tweeted in response to news of the poster.
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Follow William Cummings on Twitter @wccummings.