House Approves Resolution to Condemn Hate in the Wake of Ilhan Omar's Comments
|Mar 12, 2019|
*The Breakdown is The North Star’s daily analysis of an essential news story designed to provide historical context, go beyond the popular headlines, and offer a glimpse of where this story may be going next.
Key Facts: The House of Representatives voted last Thursday to reject hate, as Democrats attempt to quell controversy over alleged anti-Semitic comments from fellow Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Although the legislation did not rebuke or name the congressmember — one of the only two Muslim women in Congress — the document condemns anti-Semitism and bigotry against Muslims after Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
"It's not about her," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, referring to Omar. "It's about these forms of hatred." Omar has apologized for similar comments she made in the past, but has vigorously defended her remarks on the state of US-Israel relations. In a March 3 tweet, Omar wrote, “I’m told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I’m not alone.”
Historical Context: The resolution stemmed from Omar’s comments stressing that US supporters of Israel are forcing others to have “allegiance to a foreign country,” and has repeatedly questioned US-Israel relations. Last month, she suggested via Twitter that some members of Congress are funded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to rally behind pro-Israel policies.
Her comments sparked bipartisan criticism, and some Jewish leaders said she is reigniting the old stereotype about money and Jews. “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.” Other progressive Jews, however, said that criticizing Israeli policies or the work of AIPAC is not anti-Semitic, AP reported. She has also apologized for a 2012 tweet that read, “Israel has hypnotized the world.”
Omar has been a victim of bigotry herself. Over the weekend, an anti-Muslim sign outside the West Virginia House of Delegates chamber showed an image of the burning World Trade Center with a picture of Omar next to it. “‘Never forget’ — you said” was written over the WTC, and a caption on Omar’s picture read “I am the proof you have forgotten.” The West Virginia’s Republican party condemned the poster’s display on March 2.
Beneath the Surface: Though the purpose of the legislation is seen as the Democrats’ public rebuke against a fellow member of their party, more is at stake here. Almost a dozen pro-Israel organizations have urged Speaker Pelosi to remove the Somali-born congresswoman from her coveted spot at the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Republicans have also seen the opportunity to fan the flames. “Resolutions are all well and good, but Speaker Pelosi is clearly afraid to stand up to Rep. Omar if she continues to reward her with a plum spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) tweeted on Monday.
What’s Next: The legislation is likely to stoke more division among generational Democrats. Pelosi and senior members of the Democratic Party drafted the four-page resolution to address the issue. According to Politico, the vote will be considered an “extraordinary” public admonishment.
There are already incidents of political rift within the party. Representative Juan Vargas (D-CA) tweeted, “It is disturbing that Rep. Omar continues to perpetuate hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes that misrepresent our Jewish community. Additionally, questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”
In an apparent response to Vargas’s tweet, fellow freshman congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY) has come to Omar’s defense. “It’s not my position to tell people how to feel, or that their hurt is invalid,” Ocasio-Cortez wrote. "But incidents like these do beg the question: where are the resolutions against homophobic statements? For anti-blackness? For xenophobia? For a member saying he’ll 'send Obama home to Kenya?'" she added, in reference to remarks made by Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) in 2012. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) have also expressed their support to Omar. During an event last week, Tlaib compared the Minnesota congresswoman to “civil icons before us who spoke out about oppressive policies.”
While the Democratic Party is split on how to handle Omar’s stance on Israel, AIPAC is not sitting idle. According to the New York Times, some activists within the Committee are hoping to challenge Omar in a 2020 primary election. But beyond the controversy, the same article poses the question: has AIPAC become too powerful that even dissenting voices over Israel policy can’t be heard?
About the Author
Robert Valencia is the breaking news editor for The North Star. His work as editor and reporter appeared on Newsweek, World Politics Review, Mic.com, Public Radio International and The Miami Herald, among other outlets. He’s a frequent commentator on foreign affairs and U.S. politics on Al Jazeera English, CNN en Español, Univision, Telemundo, Voice of America, C-SPAN, Sirius XM and other media outlets across Latin America and the Caribbean.