House Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY) blasted Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) on Friday for suggesting that pro-Israel politicians hold “allegiance to a foreign country” and demanded the freshman congresswoman apologize for her “vile anti-Semitic slur.”
“I welcome debate in Congress based on the merits of policy, but it’s unacceptable and deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Engel said in a statement released Friday evening.
“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,” the New York Democrat continued.
Speaking Wednesday night at a forum at a Washington, D.C., bookstore with fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Omar said she fears everything they say about Israel is construed as anti-Semitic because they’re Muslim. She said that prevents a “broader debate” about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Some Jewish leaders said she then revived an old trope about divided loyalties among Jewish-Americans when she said, “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.”
She added, “I want to ask, ‘Why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the [National Rifle Association], or fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy?’”
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said in a statement that he was appalled by her suggestion that Jewish-Americans have divided loyalties between the U.S. and Israel. He said her comment “continues the unacceptable pattern of the Congresswoman deploying anti-Semitic rhetoric when speaking about Jewish-Americans’ involvement in our nation’s democratic process.”
Marshall Wittmann, a spokesman for AIPAC, told the New York Times: “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.”
Omar ignited a bipartisan uproar in Washington and at home in Minnesota last month when she suggested on Twitter that members of Congress support Israel for money. Many Jewish leaders denounced her remarks as reviving old stereotypes about Jews, money, and power. She soon apologized and said, “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.” In the same so-called apology, Omar then went on to reiterate her criticism AIPAC, calling their “role” in American politics “problematic,” while failing to note that the group does not make financial contributions to candidates.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) named Omar to the House Foreign Affairs panel last month, despite her previous support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and past tweets in which she claimed the Jewish state was “hypnotizing the world” and responsible for “evil doings.”
Earlier February, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) said Omar (D-MN) could face “further action” from Democrat leaders if she continues expressing prejudiced views. Asked by reporters about antisemitic statements made by Omar and Tlaib, Hoyer replied, “Congresswoman Omar apologized,” adding that “the real test is the actions on the floor.”
“We need to treat one another with respect and without language that would refer to any kind of interpretation of bigotry, prejudice, or hate,” he added. “We’ll continue to pursue and advocate for that, and very frankly, if that doesn’t pan out, there may be further action we would take.”
The Maryland Democrat did not elaborate on how leadership could punish lawmakers for racism, nor is it clear if any action will be taken following Omar’s latest anti-semitic remarks.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.