(CNSNews.com) – Divisions within the Democratic Party were on public display again on Thursday after Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) sparked fresh controversy with a comment which critics said equated Israel and the United States with terrorist groups.
Omar said her words were taken out of context, and liberal allies sprang to her defense, while she and they accused Democratic colleagues who had criticized her – many of them Jewish – of Islamophobia.
The head of Congressional Progressive Caucus warned against “cynical attempts to divide our caucus.”
The spat erupted after Omar posted a tweet featuring a video clip of her questioning of Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing earlier this week.
Omar had asked Blinken about the International Criminal Court, whose officials are investigating alleged war crimes in Afghanistan by U.S. forces, Afghan forces, and the Taliban; and alleged war crimes by Israel and Hamas in the disputed territories.
If domestic courts can’t or won’t pursue the cases, she said, and as the U.S. is not supportive of the ICC, “where do we think victims of these supposed crimes can go for justice?”
It was not the video clip that attracted attention, however, but a comment she added in her post: “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
The apparent lumping together of U.S., Israeli, and Afghan forces with terrorists drew a sharp response from a group of 12 Jewish Democrats, led by Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois.
“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” they said in a statement.
“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 then called it “shameful” that her colleagues had issued the statement asking for clarification, rather than call her to discuss the issue. She also accused them of engaging in “Islamophobic tropes.”
Omar separately issued a statement seeking to clarify her meaning, saying she was “in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
The Schneider-led group were not the only Democrats to criticize Omar. Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-N.Y.) decried what he called “the latest in a series of wrongheaded and inflammatory statements she has made against Israel and Jewish people which I strongly disagree with.”
Democratic Majority for Israel said her comment “reflects either the lack of a moral compass, the failure to understand the facts, or both.”
Omar’s allies were outraged, accusing her critics of taking her words out of context – and of Islamophobia.
“Enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia,” tweeted freshman Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), while Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said colleagues of both parties were “demonizing” Omar and “[t]heir obsession with policing her is sick.”
“Stop the bad faith attempts to take @IlhanMN’s words out of context,” tweeted Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.)
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)
In an attempt to defuse the kerfuffle, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the entire House Democratic leadership issued a joint statement Thursday defending “[l]egitimate criticism of the policies of both the United States and Israel” but criticizing Omar’s choice of words.
“[D]rawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all,” it said.
“We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban,” the statement added.
Congressional Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) in a statement voiced support for Omar, who serves as the CPC’s chief whip.
“We cannot ignore a right-wing media echo chamber that has deliberately and routinely attacked a Black, Muslim woman in Congress, distorting her views and intentions, and resulting in threats against Rep. Omar and her staff,” she said.
“We urge our colleagues not to abet or amplify such divisive and bad-faith tactics. Members of the Democratic Caucus owe it to each other to pause, reflect, and engage directly with each other when misunderstandings arise, and stand together against cynical attempts to divide our caucus.”
Meanwhile the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in a statement conflated criticism of Omar’s comments from Democrats with death threats from unidentified racists.
After Omar posted online a recording of an offensive and threatening call she said had been received, CAIR condemned both the threats and the criticism directed at her.
“Although we expect far-right, Islamophobic voices to target Rep. Omar for speaking up on human rights, it is shameful for her own colleagues in the House to join them in doing so,” said the group’s national deputy director, Edward Ahmed Mitchell.
“Enough is enough,” said Mitchell. “House Democrats should stop endangering Ilhan Omar for telling the truth and start demanding justice for all people.”
It’s not the first time Pelosi’s caucus has been roiled by remarks made by Omar.
Provocative comments about Jews in 2019 triggered fretful debate in the party, leading to a House resolution that was designed to draw a line under the issue, but left Republican critics dissatisfied.
Not only was Omar not named in the measure, it also lumped together anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and bigotry targeting “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.”