Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
(photo credit: REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)
WASHINGTON - Presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) defended Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Monday, saying that, "it is not antisemitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel." Speaking in a town hall event in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, hosted by Fox News, Sanders said he does not believe that Omar holds antisemitic views.
"I talked to Ilhan about twice in my life,” he said. “I respect her.”
When asked if he supports her, Sanders said, "I support a Muslim member of Congress not to be attacked every single day in outrageous, racist remarks."
The moderator also asked Sanders if he could understand why some Jewish Americans would have a problem with some of the language that Omar used.
"I can understand,” he replied. “I think that that is not quite right. And I think that Ilhan has got to do maybe a better job in speaking to the Jewish community."
"But if your question to me is whether I think she is antisemitic: No, I don't,” Sanders continued. "I am Jewish. My father's family was devastated by Hitler... I will do everything in my power, and I hope that every member of Congress will [also] fight not only antisemitism, but racism and anti-Muslim activity so that we create a nondiscriminatory society.”
He added that it is not antisemitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel.
The comments came only days after US President Donald Trump was accused of wanting to harm Omar after he posted a video of an interview on Twitter in which the congresswoman made light of the 9/11 terror attacks. The video spliced together news footage in which she described the attack as "some people did something."
"Certainly, the president is wishing no ill will, certainly not violence towards anyone," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders in an interview with ABC News. "But the president is absolutely - and should be - calling out the congresswoman for her not only one-time, but history of antisemitic comments.”
Several prominent Democrats, including Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, condemned Trump's tweet, saying he was inciting racism and violence towards Omar with the video. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Saturday criticized the president for using the "sacred" memory of 9/11 for a political attack.
In her speech before a Muslim civil rights and advocacy group, Omar said that Muslims had "lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I'm tired of it - and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it."
Sarah Sanders called Omar's comments "disgraceful and unbefitting," and questioned what she sees as lack of action from Democrats on the issue. "I think it's a good thing that the president is calling her out for those comments - and the big question is why aren't the Democrats doing it," she said.
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