Pence Blasts Antisemitism in Congress at Religious Freedom Event

US Vice President Mike Pence speaks during the second Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom in the Loy Henderson Auditorium of the State Department in Washington, DC, on July 18, 2019. - Pence said Thursday that the US is imposing sanctions on the leaders of two Iranian-linked militia groups in Iraq. …
MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, during a religious freedom event at the Department of State featuring diplomats from over 100 countries on Thursday, vehemently decried antisemitism that he said has “even found a voice in the halls of our United States Congress.”

“So let me say it clearly: Antisemitism is not just wrong; it’s evil. And antisemitism must be confronted and denounced whenever it arises, and it must be universally condemned,” he added.

His remarks came during a speech he delivered at the second annual Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom, a three-day summit launched by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration on Tuesday.

The vice president’s comments came a few months after anti-Israel comments from the first two Muslim women elected to the U.S. Congress — Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — triggered a bipartisan uproar in the American government.

On Thursday, Pence denounced what he described as growing antisemitism in the West, namely Europe and the United States.

He declared:

While religious freedom is always in danger in authoritarian regimes, threats to religious minorities sadly are not confined to autocracies or dictatorships. Truth is they can, and do, arise in free societies, as well — not from government persecution, but from prejudice.

In Europe, where religious freedom was born as a principle and is enshrined in law, antisemitism is on the rise.

In France and Germany, things have gotten so bad that Jewish religious leaders have warned their followers not to wear kippahs in public for fear that they could be violently attacked; and attacks on Jews, even on aging Holocaust survivors, are growing at an alarming rate.

And regrettably, the world’s oldest hatred has even found a voice in the halls of our United States Congress.

Three of the four members of the so-called “Squad” in the House of Representatives have made controversial statements about Israel: Omar, Tlaib, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY).

In recent weeks, Ocasio-Cortez was accused of displaying insensitivity to the Jewish community by comparing migrant facilities at the U.S.-Mexico border to “concentration camps.” 

Attorney Alan Dershowitz, a fellow Democrat, described her claims as a form of Holocaust denial. Further criticism from the U.S. Holocaust Museum, Israel’s Yad Vashem, and others failed to elicit an apology from Ocasio-Cortez, who declined an invitation to visit actual concentration camp sites.

Omar and Tlaib, in particular, have made anti-Israel remarks.

In January, Tlaib wrote that American lawmakers who back Israel “forgot what country they represent.”

A couple of months later, in March, Omar claimed that pro-Israel U.S. lawmakers owed “allegiance to a foreign country,” prompting some of her fellow Democrats, including the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to condemn her remarks as “antisemitic.” Omar serves on the House Foreign Affairs panel.

Critics have accused the two Muslim lawmakers of embracing vile and hateful stereotypes leveled against Jews throughout history.

Although House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and her Democrat colleagues passed a resolution in March denouncing prejudice against many groups including Jews, they refused to deplore Omar and Tlaib directly and singularly lambaste antisemitism, prompting bipartisan criticism.

The Democrats watered down the resolution originally designed to explicitly condemn antisemitism in response to Omar’s remarks.

Pelosi told reporters the resolution is not aimed at Omar and defended her, saying, “I feel confident” she is not antisemitic.

Pence delivered his speech before a packed auditorium, including ambassadors, ministers of foreign affairs, and other diplomats from nearly 100 countries.

He proclaimed:

We’re gathered here, 106 nations strong, because we believe in freedom of conscience — the right of all people to live out their lives according to their deeply held religious beliefs. We’re here today because we are, and will forever remain, dedicated to the principle that we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights — that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“I promise you under this president, we will respect the sovereignty and diverse cultures of every nation in the world, but …we will always continue to stand for the freedom to live, work, and worship according to the dictates of your conscience, and freedom of religion will always be an American anthem,” he added.

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