House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) on Wednesday defended Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) over her latest antisemitic outburst, arguing that her experience of fleeing violence in Somalia is “more personal” than Jews whose parents survived the Holocaust.
Omar is facing blowback after suggesting last week that pro-Israel groups pressure members of Congress to pledge “allegiance” to a foreign country. In an interview with the Hill, Clyburn criticized reports omitting mention of Omar escaping Somalia and spending four years in a Kenyan refugee camp before immigrating to the U.S. “There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her,” said Clyburn. “I’ve talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain.”
Clyburn is the latest high-profile Democrat to attempt to defend Omar’s repeated trafficking in anti-Jewish tropes. 2020 Democrat presidential candidates Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Kamala Harris (D-CA), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) issued statements on Omar, raising concerns that condemning the Minnesota Democrat could both make her a target of violence and stifle policy debates regarding Israel.
Harris said that while Congress has a responsibility to speak out against bigotry, she is concerned a House Democrat resolution condemning Omar could put her in harm’s way.
“We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry,” said Harris. “But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk.”
In a separate statement, Sanders accused House Democrat leadership of attempting to stifle “legitimate criticism” of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu by equating it with antisemitism.
“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel,” said Sanders. “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,” the Vermont Independent continued. “That’s wrong.”
Meanwhile, House Democrats have postponed indefinitely a vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism after a contentious meeting in which some new members confronted leaders over their push to rebuke Omar. This year, Omar apologized for a 2012 tweet in which she claimed Israel had “hypnotized” the world and committed “evil doings.” The freshman congresswoman apologized last month for suggesting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) bribed Republican lawmakers into supporting the Jewish state. The smear prompted top House Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-NY), to criticize her and demand an apology. In a strongly worded statement, Engel referred to Omar’s suggestion about dual loyalties as a “vile” insult.
“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,” the New York Democrat said. “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.”