WASHINGTON (AP) — A dozen Jewish Democrats in the House have accused Rep. Ilhan Omar of likening the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban and giving “cover to terrorist groups,” marking the latest bitter flare-up within the party over the Middle East.
Hours after the lawmakers released a statement criticizing their Democratic colleague from Minnesota, Omar fired back Thursday on Twitter. She accused them of “islamophobic tropes” and “constant harassment” and she posted a threatening voice mail she said the incident had prompted.
The fiery, public exchange was the latest example of how the conflict between Israel and Palestinians has roiled congressional Democrats. Their divisions, generally pitting younger progressives against older, establishment-leaning lawmakers, have intensified since last month’s 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
It was also the most recent instance in which Omar, 38, has clashed with fellow Democrats on the issue. Two months after she arrived in Congress in 2019, the House approved a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry — without mentioning her — after she made remarks that critics said accused Israel supporters of having dual allegiances.
Earlier this week, Omar, a Muslim-American born in Somalia, tweeted an exchange with Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a video conference in which she called for justice “for all victims of crimes against humanity.”
The remarks that drew the most attention came when she said, “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. I asked @SecBlinken where people are supposed to go for justice.”
Late Wednesday, Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., and 11 other Jewish House Democrats, including Representative Jake Auchincloss, issued a two-paragraph statement labeling her remarks offensive and misguided. They said she should “clarify” what she meant.
“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,” they wrote.
They said that while the U.S. and Israel are “imperfect” and merit occasional criticism, “False equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups.”
Omar tweeted back that was “shameful” that fellow Democrats who sometimes seek her support on issues didn’t ask her for an explanation by simply calling her.
“The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable,” she wrote.
She said her comments did not reflect prejudice and cited an International Criminal Court investigation of the recent fighting between Israel and Hamas. “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,” she wrote.
She also wrote, “Every time I speak out on human rights I am inundated with death threats.” She posted an excerpt of an expletive-laden voice mail she said she’d just received with a caller hoping she gets “what’s coming for you.”
But Omar released a statement Thursday that sought to clarify her remarks.
“To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel,” she said in the statement. “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
Underscoring the schisms within the party, Rep. Cori Bush, D-Mo., a progressive freshman, lashed out Thursday at Omar’s Democratic detractors.
“I’m not surprised when Republicans attack Black women for standing up for human rights,” she tweeted. “But when it’s Democrats, it’s especially hurtful. We’re your colleagues. Talk to us directly. Enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia.”
In a sign of what Republicans might attempt when the House returns next week from recess, the National Republican Congressional Committee tweeted Thursday, “@Housedemocrats must vote to strip anti-Semite @IlhanMN of her committee assignments.”
Such an effort would attract attention but likely fail in the Democratic-run chamber. The NRCC is the House GOP campaign organization.