Bernie Sanders Defends Ilhan Omar in Antisemitism Crisis: ‘Legitimate Criticism’

(INSET: Ilhan Omar) COLUMBIA, SC - JANUARY 21: U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) claps with a song during the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day at the Dome event on January 21, 2019 in Columbia, South Carolina. Sanders was joined by fellow potential Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ). …
Sean Rayford/Getty, Kerem Yucel/AFP/Getty

Senator and 2020 Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) accused House Democrat leadership of targeting Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) as lawmakers draft a resolution condemning antisemitism prompted by her latest anti-Jewish remarks.

In a statement Wednesday, Sanders called antisemitism a “hateful and dangerous ideology” that must be “vigorously opposed” in the worldwide. “We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace.”

“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong,” the self-avowed democratic socialist added.

Sanders’ vague statement did not explicitly lump in Omar’s recent comments with “legitimate criticism,” but he has provided no clarity on the statements themselves — so far failing to condemn her repeated use of antisemitic tropes like dual loyalty or Israeli control of U.S. politicians.

Omar became the flashpoint on this topic after she suggested last week that Israel’s supporters are pushing U.S. lawmakers to take a pledge of “allegiance to a foreign country.” It is at least the third time she has forced older, pro-Israel Democrats who run the House into awkward territory over U.S.-Israeli policy.

This time, Omar is not apologizing. And this time pro-Israel Democrats led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) are not just warning her about the dangers of Jewish tropes. They are expected to offer a resolution condemning antisemitism on the House floor. Although no vote on the resolution is yet scheduled, Democrats said it could come as soon as Thursday.

“Accusations of dual loyalty generally have an insidious, bigoted history,” an early draft of the resolution reads in part. “The House of Representatives acknowledges the dangerous consequences of perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes and rejects anti-Semitism as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

Earlier this year, Omar apologized for a 2012 tweet in which she said Israel had “hypnotized” America. In February, she apologized for suggesting that members of Congress support Israel because they are paid to do so. That earned her stern rebukes from Pelosi and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY), among others. This time, Engel declared that Omar’s suggestion about divided loyalties was a “vile” stereotype that had no place on his committee.

“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,” said Engel.

“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 continued.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 


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