WASHINGTON — A dozen House Democrats publicly criticized their colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., late Wednesday, accusing her of giving “cover” to terrorist and suggesting her remarks about Hamas and the Taliban reflect a “deep-seated prejudice.”
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” the group, led by Rep. Brad Schneider, of Illinois, said in a statement, urging Omar to “clarify” her remarks.
Omar initially responded Wednesday to her critics on Twitter by calling their statement “offensive” and defending her initial remarks, which she said were taken out of context. On Thursday, she responded to the letter by saying, “To be clear: I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
House leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., then issued a statement saying “drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all.”
“We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban,” the statement from leadership said.
Omar’s fellow “Squad” members voiced outrage at the Democratic lawmakers who’d criticized her.
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus. They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., tweeted.
Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., wrote, “I’m not surprised when Republicans attack Black women for standing up for human rights. But when it’s Democrats, it’s especially hurtful. We’re your colleagues. Talk to us directly. Enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia.”
The statement by the group of lawmakers said that the U.S. and Israel are “imperfect” and are at times deserving of critique, “but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups.”
“Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice,” the group wrote.
The statement by a group of Jewish lawmakers was a rare public display of the long simmering tensions over what some fellow Democrats have argued are anti-Jewish sentiments by Omar. The House previously voted in 2019 to condemn antisemitism in response to statements Omar made, but the resolution did not name her.
The latest incident was sparked Monday, when Omar posted a video on Twitter showing her questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a video call about the U.S.’s opposition to the International Criminal Court investigating alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and Israel.
“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban,” she tweeted about her back-and-forth with Blinken on what alternatives would be available if the ICC does not investigate the allegations.
The ICC last year authorized an investigation into allegations of war crimes by United States military and intelligence personnel, Afghan forces and the Taliban in Afghanistan dating back to 2003. A court prosecutor had argued there was a reasonable basis to believe war crimes were committed by members of the U.S. armed forces and by members of the CIA in secret detention facilities.
The decision was blasted by then-Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Trump administration slapped court staffers involved in the probe with economic sanctions. The Biden administration is also opposed to the probe, but the U.S. repealed the sanctions in April, a decision that was hailed by Omar at the time and during the exchange with Blinken.
In March, the ICC announced it was also investigating suspected war crimes in the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, after finding there was involving reasonable basis to believe offenses had been committed by both the Israeli military and Palestinian armed groups, including Hamas militants.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would not cooperate with the probe, which he described as “pure antisemitism.”
Omar’s spokesman, Jeremy Slevin, tweeted on Tuesday that Omar’s words were being seized on out of context by right-wing media who were focusing on her line about “unthinkable atrocities” while “the underlying question—about a legitimate criminal investigation!—is ignored.”
After the group of Democrats released their letter Wednesday, Omar responded that it was “shameful” that the group released a public statement instead of speaking to her directly.
“The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable,” she wrote.
In a follow-up tweet, Omar defended her initial remarks: “Citing an open case against Israel, US, Hamas & Taliban in the [The International Criminal Court] isn’t comparison or from ‘deeply seated prejudice’. You might try to undermine these investigations or deny justice to their victims but history has thought us that the truth can’t be hidden or silenced forever.”
The statement criticizing Omar was also signed by Reps. Jake Auchincloss, of Massachusetts; Ted Deutch, of Florida; Lois Frankel, of Florida; Josh Gottheimer, of New Jersey; Elaine Luria, of Virginia; Kathy Manning, of North Carolina; Jerry Nadler, of New York; Dean Phillips, of Minnesota; Kim Schrier, of Washington; Brad Sherman, of California; and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, of Florida.
“Rep. Omar is a deeply valued member of the Progressive Caucus,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said in a statement. “Her voice is critical and necessary, both in the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the House Democratic Caucus as a whole.
“We cannot ignore a right-wing media echo chamber that has deliberately and routinely attacked a Black, Muslim woman in Congress, distorting her views and intentions, and resulting in threats against Rep. Omar and her staff,” Jayapal said on behalf of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.