US congresswoman Ilhan Omar faced a new, furious backlash Thursday from colleagues across the political spectrum after the Muslim lawmaker accused the United States and Israel of “unthinkable atrocities” comparable to those of Hamas and the Taliban.
Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to the US Congress, has antagonized or offended members of her Democratic Party in the past with comments that have been decried as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel.
But Republicans and Democrats alike have seized on her recent criticism of the United States to demand she clarify her remarks, or call outright for punishment including being stripped of her committee assignments.
Twelve Jewish House Democrats issued a rare public letter of disapproval against a member of their own party, writing that “equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided.”
“The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups,” wrote the group, led by Brad Schneider of Illinois.
“We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words.”
At a House hearing on Monday, Omar — who was born in Somalia and immigrated to the United States as a refugee in the mid-1990s — grilled Secretary of State Antony Blinken over accountability for victims of crimes against humanity.
She then followed up with a tweet that read: “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
“Rep. Omar’s anti-Semitic & anti-American comments are abhorrent,” said top House Republican Kevin McCarthy.
“Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi’s continued failure to address the issues in her caucus sends a message to the world that Democrats are tolerant of anti-Semitism and sympathizing with terrorists,” he added. “It’s time for the Speaker to act.”
‘Walk it back’
The 38-year-old Minneapolis congresswoman, who has repeatedly criticized Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, pushed back Thursday.
“The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive,” she tweeted, referring to the letter by the dozen lawmakers.
Omar said her earlier remarks were related to an open case against Israel, the United States, Hamas and the Taliban in the International Criminal Court.
But in response to firestorm triggered by her comments, Omar also issued a statement insisting they were “not a moral comparison” between the US, Israel, Hamas and the Taliban.
“I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” she said.
Lawmakers from both camps were nevertheless fierce in their condemnation.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton said Omar, a naturalized US citizen, was “welcome to leave” if she believed America was as hateful as the Taliban or Hamas.
“She should immediately be removed from her committees,” Cotton said, echoing several House Republicans demanding such action, especially removal from the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee.
More Democrats also began calling on Omar to tone down her rhetoric.
She “ought to walk it back,” congressman John Garamendi told CNN. “The problem is, this kind of language incites violence here in the US.”
Anti-Semitic attacks increased sharply in May in the US, amid a deadly conflict between Israel and Islamist movement Hamas, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Omar received support from the other Muslim woman in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, who said she was tired of colleagues “demonizing” Omar.
“Their obsession with policing her is sick,” Tlaib said.
Omar said she recently received death threats, and posted audio Thursday of a man threatening her staff and saying “Muslims are terrorists.”
She endured brutal attacks in recent years by then-president Donald Trump, who branded her a “rabid anti-Semite” and questioned her loyalty to America.
During a campaign rally last September he mentioned Omar’s Somali roots, and warned supporters she was “telling us how to run our country.”