House lead­er­ship con­demns fresh­man’s Is­rael com­ments

Min­nesota Demo­crat faces bi­par­ti­san back­lash over ‘anti-Semitic tropes’

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MIKE DEBONIS AND RACHAEL BADE

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the en­tire Demo­cratic lead­er­ship on Mon­day con­demned Rep. Il­han Omar for sug­gest­ing that Is­rael’s al­lies in Amer­i­can pol­i­tics were mo­ti­vated by money rather than prin­ci­ple, an ex­tra­or­di­nary re­buke of a House fresh­man in the van­guard of the party’s left flank.

The Min­nesota con­gress­woman’s Sun­day even­ing tweet — “It’s all about the Ben­jamins baby,” a ref­er­ence to $100 bills — drew im­me­di­ate de­nun­ci­a­tions from Repub­li­cans and fel­low Democrats, espe­cially Jewish mem­bers of Con­gress. Within hours, Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the lead­er­ship is­sued a joint state­ment call­ing Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prej­u­di­cial ac­cu­sa­tions about Is­rael’s sup­port­ers” deeply of­fen­sive and in­sisted on an apology.

In re­sponse, Omar said her in­ten­tion was never to of­fend “my con­stituents or Jewish Amer­i­cans

as a whole. . . . This is why I un­equiv­o­cally apol­o­gize.”

The firestorm ex­posed deep di­vi­sions within the Demo­cratic Party over the un­ques­tioned U.S. sup­port of Is­rael, pit­ting long­stand­ing Demo­cratic back­ers of the Jewish state against the party’s new­est law­mak­ers and sev­eral 2020 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates who have spo­ken out in fa­vor of Pales­tinian rights.

The episode sparked re­crim­i­na­tions in­side the party at a mo­ment when Repub­li­cans are seek­ing to use un­equiv­o­cal sup­port for Is­rael as a po­lit­i­cal lit­mus test. It also comes as Pelosi seeks to keep her cau­cus united against Pres­i­dent Trump and the GOP while hardleft law­mak­ers try to push the party away from the cen­ter on for­eign pol­icy, cli­mate change, im­mi­gra­tion and other is­sues.

In a sign of po­ten­tial clashes, Omar said she would not change her views of the “prob­lem­atic role of lob­by­ists in our pol­i­tics” af­ter the back­lash to her tweets. “It’s gone on too long and we must be will­ing to ad­dress it,” she said.

While some left-wing poli­cies have got­ten a sym­pa­thetic hear­ing from Democrats, in­clud­ing many of the party’s 2020 pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, skep­ti­cism to­ward Is­rael has proved a much thornier is­sue. Many Democrats have strug­gled to rec­on­cile their frus­tra­tion with the con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment led by Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu, one closely al­lied with Trump and Repub­li­cans, with their sup­port for the Jewish home­land.

But for most Democrats on Mon­day, Omar’s tweets crossed the line by play­ing into an­cient stereo­types about wealthy Jews — forc­ing ac­tion from party lead­ers who had brushed off ear­lier ac­cu­sa­tions of anti-Semitism against Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (DMich.), the only two Mus­lim women in Con­gress.

“Le­git­i­mate crit­i­cism of Is­rael’s poli­cies is pro­tected by the val­ues of free speech and demo­cratic de­bate that the United States and Is­rael share,” Pelosi said in a joint state­ment with five other House Demo­cratic lead­ers, adding that Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes was deeply of­fen­sive.

Omar wrote that she thinks the Amer­i­can Is­rael Pub­lic Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, or AIPAC, the in­flu­en­tial lob­by­ing group, is pay­ing Amer­i­can politi­cians to take proIs­rael stances.

AIPAC, which is not a po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, does not make cam­paign con­tri­bu­tions to politi­cians, but its in­di­vid­ual mem­bers can make do­na­tions, and the or­ga­ni­za­tion spends mil­lions on lob­by­ing ef­forts for pro-Is­rael leg­is­la­tion ev­ery year.

Mo­ments be­fore the Demo­cratic lead­ers is­sued the state­ment, Pelosi phoned Omar to tell her what it would say, ac­cord­ing to a se­nior Demo­cratic aide not autho­rized to speak pub­licly about the mat­ter. Af­ter­ward, Pelosi is­sued a brief state­ment say­ing the two “agreed that we must use this mo­ment to move for­ward as we re­ject anti-Semitism in all forms.”

About two hours later, Omar is­sued her apology. The Demo­cratic aide de­clined to dis­cuss whether Pelosi told Omar to take any par­tic­u­lar ac­tion.

The furor over anti-Semitism comes at a mo­ment in which Democrats have been riven over mat­ters of race, gen­der and iden­tity, with many stak­ing out a po­si­tion of near-zero tol­er­ance for party of­fi­cials who have been ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct and racial in­sen­si­tiv­ity — even decades ago.

Some Jewish groups ques­tioned the kid-glove treat­ment for Omar and Tlaib as Democrats have is­sued a flurry of res­ig­na­tion de­mands for two top state of­fi­cials in Vir­ginia who ad­mit­ted to wear­ing black­face, as well as an­other who is ac­cused of two sex­ual as­saults.

“Vig­i­lance against an­tiSemitism has to be as strong and as solid as the re­jec­tion of racism and other forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion,” said Nathan Di­a­ment, pub­lic pol­icy di­rec­tor for the Union of Ortho­dox Jewish Con­gre­ga­tions of Amer­ica.

For many Democrats, the no­tion that they are sud­denly on the de­fen­sive over anti-Semitism is be­wil­der­ing, if not in­fu­ri­at­ing.

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) last year faced crit­i­cism af­ter a tweet ac­cus­ing Jewish bil­lion­aires of try­ing to “buy” the midterm elec­tions. Repub­li­can lead­ers for years dis­missed racially charged state­ments by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) and did not re­spond af­ter he used a con­gres­sional trip last year to meet with mem­bers of a far-right Aus­trian party with his­tor­i­cal Nazi ties. Only af­ter King seemed to de­fend white supremacy last month did they act.

And that, Democrats say, is to say noth­ing of Trump’s equiv­o­ca­tion af­ter the Au­gust 2017 white na­tion­al­ist rally in Char­lottesville.

“If you ask me, if there’s any rhetoric that has to be crit­i­cized, it would be that of Don­ald Trump,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said Fri­day, be­fore Omar’s lat­est tweets. “That has em­bold­ened peo­ple who now can say out loud any kind of anti-Semitic and racist [re­mark].”

On Mon­day, Schakowsky put out a state­ment re­pu­di­at­ing Omar’s tweets — “STOP IT!” she said — while also point­ing out McCarthy’s tweet.

Speak­ing Mon­day night aboard Air Force One, Trump said Omar “should be ashamed of her­self” and that her apology was in­ad­e­quate.

Asked what she should say, he replied, “She knows what to say.”

It re­mained to be seen late Mon­day whether Omar’s apology would quell the furor. A few Repub­li­cans, in­clud­ing Sen. Ted Cruz (RTex.), ap­plauded Pelosi for her pub­lic re­pu­di­a­tion of anti-Semitism. But other Repub­li­cans and some anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion ad­vo­cacy groups sug­gested that the apology might not be enough. McCarthy, in a state­ment, said the GOP would “take ac­tion this week to en­sure the House speaks out against this ha­tred.”

House Mi­nor­ity Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said that Omar should be re­moved from the House For­eign Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, a post she sought to de­fend hu­man rights and ad­vo­cate on be­half of refugees like her­self. Omar fled So­ma­lia in 1991, and she has been vo­cally crit­i­cal of Is­lamic regimes, in­clud­ing Saudi Ara­bia’s.

The se­nior Demo­cratic aide said there is no dis­cus­sion of re­mov­ing Omar from the panel. And while some Demo­cratic aides dis­cussed hold­ing a House vote on a cer­e­mo­nial res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing anti-Semitism, there were no plans as of Mon­day even­ing to con­sider one.

The anti-Semitism ac­cu­sa­tions against Omar pre­date her short po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, which be­gan with a suc­cess­ful 2016 run for a state leg­isla­tive seat. Be­fore Sun­day, her ac­cusers pointed most squarely at a 2012 tweet claim­ing that “Is­rael has hyp­no­tized the world” — prompt­ing her to apol­o­gize this month. She has also ex­pressed sym­pa­thies with the Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions move­ment, or BDS, which aims to ap­ply eco­nomic pres­sure to change Is­raeli pol­icy to­ward the Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tion — a move­ment that pro-Is­rael forces say is rooted in anti-Semitism.

But the tweets Sun­day night — sug­gest­ing that McCarthy sup­ported Is­rael only for cam­paign do­na­tions — proved the last straw.

Reps. Josh Got­theimer (D-N. J.) and Elaine Luria (D-Va.) started gath­er­ing sig­na­tures for a let­ter ask­ing Pelosi, House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.) and other se­nior Democrats to con­firm “our re­jec­tion of anti-Semitism and our con­tin­ued sup­port for the State of Is­rael.”

Al­though the let­ter did not name Omar and Tlaib, its in­ten­tion was clear — cit­ing “re­cent rhetoric from cer­tain mem­bers within our Cau­cus, in­clud­ing just last night, that has dis­par­aged us and called into ques­tion our loy­alty to our na­tion.”

Mea­gan Flynn, Kris­tine Phillips and Reis The­bault con­trib­uted to this re­port.

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