Her colleagues are rushing to condemn her on the House floor this week, but Rep. Ilhan Omar has her backers among powerful progressive activist groups who say they don’t understand why Democratic leaders are going out of their way to cut down one of their own.
A draft resolution slated for a vote Wednesday doesn’t name Ms. Omar, but it condemns anti-Semitism as “hateful expressions of intolerance” and would come just days after the Minnesota congresswoman suggested other lawmakers show too much fealty to Israel.
She says her words are being twisted, and liberal activists say she’s being unfairly singled out when there are others, such as right-wing politicians, who say comments even more offensive about Muslims.
“Democrats are walking into a trap,” said Ryan Greenwood, director of Movement Politics for People’s Action.
He said his organization doesn’t condone Ms. Omar’s comments, but the outcry over her remarks plays into the hands of conservatives looking to foment the appearance of dissension within the new Democratic majority in the House.
For now, though, the fight is chiefly within the Democratic Party.
Democratic leaders are the ones who are putting the resolution on the floor, and committee chairmen have been among the most outspoken in saying Ms. Omar has gone too far when she’s attempted to tie support for Israel to campaign donations or suggested it’s a betrayal of America.
If Not Now, a group of progressive Jewish activists, said Ms. Omar’s criticism is warranted and said the Democrats’ anti-Semitism resolution is out of touch with what the party’s younger supporters want.
“The older generation of American Jews pushing for this resolution — like the [American Defamation League], [Rep. Elliot Engel], and [Rep. Nita Lowey] — are not motivated by a real concern with Jewish safety, but a desire to stop political opposition to the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian people,” they wrote in a tweet.
Ms. Omar, one of two Muslim women elected to Congress last year, has apologized for some of her comments in the past and said she would learn from the pain she caused Jewish colleagues.
But she offended again last week when she told Rep. Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, that representatives shouldn’t have “allegiance to a foreign country.”
Jewish groups demanded a new apology, and Republicans called for her to be ousted from her seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“It’s a deep-rooted belief that shows the core of her convictions,” Rep. Steve Scalise, the second-ranking House Republican, told Fox News. “Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but why would you have her on a committee that sensitive to our foreign policy if she has those kinds of anti-Semitic beliefs unless you are willing to tolerate it?”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has rebuffed efforts to oust the congresswoman.
For liberal activists, that’s not enough.
“Everyone paying attention knows that the particular resolution being pushed right now isn’t to hold Republicans accountable for the countless times they have stood silently as the President white-washed neo-nazis, but instead to tell a newly elected Black, Muslim, refugee Congresswoman to sit-down and shut-up,” Charles Chamberlain, chair of Democracy for America, said in a statement.
This won’t be the first time Ms. Omar has sparked a vote to rebuke her views.
After an earlier set of remarks in February Republicans orchestrated a vote on a motion to denounce anti-Semitism as part of a resolution about U.S. military involvement in Yemen.
Ms. Omar voted for that motion, which passed 424-0.
This time, she has stood her ground, arguing that her criticism toward Israel is being misconstrued.
“I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks,” she tweeted. “Being opposed to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic.”
Progressives contend that by focusing on Ms. Omar’s comments, Democrats are missing the bigger picture and not adequately addressing other forms of offensive speech and racial violence — particularly the threat of white nationalism.
Specifically, progressive leaders called for Congress to focus on the flier posted by a Republican state representative in West Virginia that linked Ms. Omar to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, an influential New York Democrat, questioned whether other lawmakers will be held to account for their words.
“If House leadership is creating a standard & committing to calling a resolution for every incident - whether it’s the Congressional Black Caucus, CHC, etc, then thats a clear way to address the issue & we can all understand,” she tweeted. “But if they’re not, I think it’s valid to ask why not.”
Ultimately, progressives say this week’s resolution will accomplish nothing.
“A statement of condemnation is not real leadership,” Mr. Greenwood said. “Real leadership would be leading a broad-based public conversation that converts into concrete government action to take on the structures that further Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism in America and our world.”
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