WASHINGTON — Divisions among Democrats over Israel intensified Thursday after a group of 12 Jewish Democratic lawmakers criticized Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota over a tweet she wrote that seemed to equate the actions of the United States and Israel with those of Hamas and the Taliban, calling it “offensive” and demanding she “clarify” her words.
Omar said her comments were misconstrued and that she was not suggesting a moral equivalency. She and other Democratic women of color in the House accused their colleagues of advancing Islamophobia and, in one case, “anti-Blackness” in their public chastising of the lawmaker.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and her Democratic leadership team addressed Omar’s comments in a joint statement, saying that equating the United States and Israel and terrorist groups such as Hamas and the Taliban “foments prejudice.” They said they welcomed Omar’s clarification.
Omar's tweet is the latest among her frequent criticisms of the Israeli government that drew ire from lawmakers of both parties who have condemned them as perpetuating antisemitic stereotypes.
But it also comes amid shifting attitudes toward Israel in the Democratic Party that have triggered sometimes heated internal debates over how stridently the United States should defend its Middle East ally.
Omar's tweet stemmed from a question she asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday about where victims of attacks by the Israeli or Afghan governments can go for justice.
"We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity," she tweeted with a video of her question to Blinken. "We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban."
The Jewish Democrats, led by Representative Brad Schneider of Illinois, released a joint statement late Wednesday denouncing Omar’s tweet. Representative Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts was among the signatories.
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” they wrote. “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.”
Omar and several other congresswomen of color hit back hard at their colleagues for publicly singling her out.
“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,” tweeted Representative Cori Bush of Missouri. “Enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia.”
Issues involving Israel and anti-Jewish sentiments are particularly fraught after a weeks-long conflict between the Israeli government and Hamas gave rise to an increase in antisemitic attacks in the United States.
During the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs the Gaza Strip, many Democrats pushed for the United States to adopt a sterner posture toward the Israeli government. President Biden also showed some sensitivity to the changing dynamics in his party.
Senate confirms first Muslim to federal district court
The Senate on Thursday confirmed Zahid Quraishi to the District Court of New Jersey, making him the first Muslim to sit on federal district court.
Thursday’s 83-16 Senate vote was bipartisan, with 34 Republicans crossing party lines to join all Democrats present in voting to confirm Quraishi.
Quraishi is a magistrate judge for the District of New Jersey. A graduate of Rutgers Law School, he has worked as an assistant US attorney and white-collar criminal defense lawyer and also served as a military prosecutor and captain in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps.
The son of Pakistani immigrants, Quraishi became the first Asian American to serve on the federal bench in New Jersey when he was appointed to his current role in 2019.
Senator Dick Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Quraishi’s work in the private sector was cut short by “a strange, tragic twist of fate. His first day of work was September 11, 2001. The events of that day inspired Judge Quraishi to work in public service. He was a commissioned officer and was twice deployed to Iraq in 2004 and 2006. For his service, he was awarded the combat star and combat action badge.”
The Senate also on Thursday voted 52-46 to move ahead on the nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the influential US Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Jackson, 50, is a former public defender and member of the US Sentencing Commission who has served on the District Court in Washington for eight years. A final vote is expected on Monday; if confirmed, she would replace Merrick Garland, who became President Biden’s attorney general in March.
Budget deficit at a record $2.06 trillion
WASHINGTON — The US budget deficit hit a record $2.06 trillion through the first eight months of this budget year as coronavirus relief programs drove spending to all-time highs.
The shortfall this year is 9.7 percent higher than the $1.88 trillion deficit run up over the same period a year ago, the Treasury Department said Thursday in its monthly budget report.
The report showed that spending from October through May totaled a record $4.67 trillion, up 19.7 percent from the same period a year ago. Government tax revenue was up 29.1 percent to $2.61 trillion, compared to the same period a year ago.
However, this year’s figure was bolstered by tax payments made in May, a month later than the normal April deadline but a month earlier than last year’s June deadline.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 pushing 22 million people out of work, the government has responded even more forcefully with trillions of dollars in increased spending.
FBI chief fields criticism from both parties
WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans aimed withering questions at the FBI as Director Christopher A. Wray testified before the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, though their concerns diverged significantly along partisan lines.
Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, blasted Wray for the bureau’s failure to detect in advance and respond to the mob that attacked the US Capitol on Jan. 6, while ranking Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio accused the bureau of intruding on Americans’ civil liberties in an eclectic mix of circumstances.
The hearing made clear that Democrats and Republicans could hardly be further apart on what the FBI should and shouldn’t be doing. But on this much, they seemed to agree: The nation’s premier federal law enforcement institution had significant problems that needed to be addressed.
For his part, Wray sought to highlight how the bureau seeks to root out violence — no matter what motivates it — and is careful not to tread on Americans’ First Amendment rights.
In his opening statement, the FBI director highlighted the “extremist violence” of Jan. 6 in which more than 100 officers were injured in just a few hours and asserted that law enforcement had made more than 500 arrests.
But he also noted the bureau saw extremist violence during last summer’s civil unrest associated with racial justice protests. While he asserted that “most citizens made their voices heard through peaceful lawful, protests,” he said that others attacked federal buildings and left officers injured, and thousands had been arrested across the country.
“That is not a controversial issue that should force anyone to take sides,” he said, adding later in response to questions, “I don’t care whether you’re upset at our criminal justice system, or upset at our election system, violence, assaults on federal law enforcement, destruction of property, is not the way to do it. That’s our position.’’