After 'tense' internal fight, Democrats broaden antisemitism resolution

Omar renewed controversy over her Israel stance last weekend when she questioned "the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country."

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March 8, 2019 00:53
4 minute read.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a House Education and Labor Committee Markup on the H.R. 582

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a House Education and Labor Committee Markup on the H.R. 582 Raise The Wage Act, in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 6, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (photo credit: MARK WILSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

 
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Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill revised a resolution on Thursday condemning antisemitism to include broad condemnation of hate in all its forms.

The new legislation now condemns “antisemitism, Islamophobia, racism, and other forms of bigotry,” after freshman members and the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) accused their leadership of unfairly targeting Ilhan Omar, a representative from Minnesota, over her recent comments accusing Israel advocates of dual loyalties.

Omar told Democratic House leadership earlier in the week that she was prepared to vote in favor of a resolution designed to condemn her own remarks on Israel, two senior congressional aides told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. But a backlash from her political allies delayed the motion and shifted the leadership calculus.

The resolution passed on Thursday, 407-23, in the US House of Representatives, with Omar's support.

Omar renewed controversy over her Israel stance last weekend when she questioned “the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country” at an event with supporters. It was the third instance in as many months in which the freshman congresswoman questioned the patriotism of Americans supportive of Israel.

In response, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries and other Democratic leaders drafted a resolution that endorsed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism – which calls out exceptional criticism of Israel and its right to exist as a Jewish state – and outlined the history of “dual loyalty” charges against Jews that have undergirded attacks on the community worldwide.

“The myth of dual loyalty, including allegations that Jews should be suspected of being disloyal neighbors or citizens, has been used to marginalize and persecute the Jewish people for centuries for being a stateless minority,” the measure read.

Omar told those leaders she would support the resolution without condition. But ahead of the vote, scheduled for Wednesday, several other freshman and the CBC demanded a revised draft that also condemned Islamophobia and other forms of hate.
Those revisions were published on Thursday, and have led to broad criticism from more senior members of the party as well as its Jewish members.

“The charge of dual loyalty has resulted in violence against the Jewish people, it’s resulted in persecution of the Jewish people, it’s resulted in ejection from country after country with respect to the Jewish people,” Jeffries said in a statement. “So it’s an important conversation for us to have. Let’s keep the focus on the issues that are at stake because they are incredibly important for us to address.”

From the floor of the House, Ted Deutch, a veteran lawmaker from Florida, said he was concerned that the party appeared unable to condemn antisemitism unequivocally under the circumstances without lumping it in with other forms of hate.

“Why are we unable to singularly condemn antisemitism?” he asked, explicitly calling out Omar’s recent remarks. “This shouldn’t be so hard.”

Despite reports that Omar – who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee – would have a hand in the drafting process, sources tell the Post that she was not shown the revised document before its publication.

The episode is Pelosi’s first major test since resuming the House speakership in January. At her weekly press conference, she said that Omar still had to acclimate to her new role as a congressman and learn the power of her words in that role.

“I do not believe that she understood the full weight of the words,” Pelosi said. “I feel confident that her words were not based on any antisemitic attitude.”

But Jewish groups – Democratic, Republican and nonpartisan alike – roundly criticized Pelosi’s move and expressed dismay that Omar’s comments could not be unequivocally rebuked.

“As active, loyal Democrats, we find it sad, and frankly disconcerting, that House Democrats cannot agree to a resolution condemning antisemitism,” said the CEO of a new group aligned with the party, called Democratic Majority for Israel. “Let’s be very clear: the issue at stake here is antisemitism, not support for, or opposition to, any policy of the Israeli government. Congresswoman Omar’s remarks did not mention a single policy pursued by the Government of Israel.”

Several Democratic presidential contenders, including Senators Kamala Harris of California, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, issued cautionary statements wary of Pelosi’s resolution process and were critical of efforts to “stifle” legitimate debate over Israeli policy. Their statements came just hours before Pelosi and her staff recalibrated their approach.

Since taking office, Omar has questioned whether support for Israel in Congress is “all about the Benjamins” and has compared Israel advocacy organizations to the pharmaceutical, fossil fuel and gun lobbies.

She supports the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement targeting Israel, and says she “chuckles” at the notion it can exist as both a Jewish and democratic state.

One Democratic aide told the Post that committee chairs had miscalculated by asking for a resolution in the first place, inviting the grievances of other minorities represented in the caucus to spill forth.

"There's no strategy going forward if this happens again," the aide said. "Things are tense right now, but Pelosi's top priority is party leadership. The assumption is she will be working behind the scenes to make sure this does not happen again."

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