House’s Anti-Semitism Resolution Exposes Generational Fight Over Ilhan Omar – The New York Times

House’s Anti-Semitism Resolution Exposes Generational Fight Over Ilhan Omar – The New York Times

Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, center, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. She has been criticized for remarks that were characterized as anti-Semitic.Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, center, on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. She has been criticized for remarks that were characterized as anti-Semitic.Erin Schaff/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — A formal condemnation of anti-Semitism that is up for a vote in the House this week has touched off a furious debate between older House Democrats and their young liberal colleagues over whether Representative Ilhan Omar is being singled out for unfair treatment over her statements on Israel.

The resolution, likely to be voted on Thursday, grew out of Ms. Omar’s suggestion last week that pro-Israel activists were pushing “for allegiance to a foreign country” — a remark that infuriated leading Jewish members of the House, who say it played into the anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalty.”

It comes just weeks after Ms. Omar apologized for tweeting that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby,” a reference to hundred-dollar bills that critics said echoed a common anti-Semitic belief that Jewish money is controlling foreign policy.

But progressives in the House and their allies have rallied to the defense of Ms. Omar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, who was hailed as a trailblazer. Speaker Nancy Pelosi told top Democrats on Tuesday evening that the resolution would also include language condemning anti-Muslim bias as well — a move advocated by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

The rift emerging around Ms. Omar is easily the most serious since Democrats swept to House control in November, an ideological and generational divide that has grown fierce in recent days and threatens to overshadow the party’s legislative agenda.

On one side are veteran Democrats like Representatives Eliot L. Engel, Nita M. Lowey and Jerrold Nadler — all of whom lead major House committees and all of whom are Jewish. They met over the weekend with Representative Steny H. Hoyer, the majority leader, and other Democrats in a frenzied effort to respond to Ms. Omar and emerged to push for the resolution.

On the other side are younger members like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, and liberal groups like Justice Democrats and IfNotNow, a movement of young Jews dedicated to ending the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. They accuse Democratic leaders of singling out a woman of color while letting slide comments from Republicans that they deem racist, anti-Semitic or bigoted, including many from President Trump.

“One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx + other communities,” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter, mentioning a Republican House member who shouted, “Go back to Puerto Rico” on the House floor.

Mr. Trump’s decision to inject himself into the debate on Tuesday only inflamed matters.

“Representative Ilhan Omar is again under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter. “Jewish groups have just sent a petition to Speaker Pelosi asking her to remove Omar from Foreign Relations Committee. A dark day for Israel!”

Ms. Omar’s office had no comment on Tuesday. But the intraparty fight has spilled over into Democratic campaigns. The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a liberal advocacy group, said Tuesday that it had begun raising money for Democrats who support Ms. Omar, calling her “a progressive rock star” — and will work against Democrats like Mr. Engel and Ms. Lowey, calling their criticism “shameful.”

And the group condemned the silence of many of Ms. Omar’s critics after West Virginia Republicans produced a poster saying that fading memories of the Sept. 11 attacks had allowed Ms. Omar to be elected.

A coalition of Muslim and Jewish groups, including IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, intend to deliver a letter of support for Ms. Omar to Ms. Pelosi on Wednesday. And there is a rising backlash from the left on social media, where a slew of left-leaning journalists and activists are posting under the hashtag #IStandWithIlhan.

“The Democratic Party’s throwing of @IlhanMN under the bus is an (unfortunately unsurprising) disgrace,” Jeremy Scahill, who founded The Intercept, a left-wing news organization, wrote Tuesday on Twitter. “She raised entirely legitimate concerns about US support for the murderous apartheid government of Israel & the subservience of US politicians to the agenda of a foreign power.”

An early draft of the anti-Semitism resolution that was circulated on Capitol Hill Tuesday — before the language about Muslims was added — does not name Ms. Omar. But there is little question it is aimed at her.

It states that “accusing Jews of dual loyalty because they support Israel, whether out of a religious connection, a commitment to Jewish self-determination after millennia of persecution or an appreciation for shared values and interests, suggests that Jews cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors, when Jews have served our nation since its founding, whether in public life or military service.”

The House already voted last month to condemn anti-Semitism — two days after Ms. Pelosi and the entire Democratic leadership forced Ms. Omar to apologize for her “Benjamins” Twitter post, in which she insinuated that American support for Israel was fueled by money from donors and pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group.

Ms. Omar, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which oversees Middle East policy, also apologized to Jewish groups, mostly on the left. But far from silencing her, that first flare-up simply led to the next — her comments about allegiances to a foreign country. That flummoxed Jewish Democrats, who had said they would talk to Ms. Omar about her insinuations.

“The idea that certain members of Congress seemingly believe it is acceptable to use historic anti-Semitic tropes accusing Jews of dual loyalty, despite the broad condemnation of the entire House Democratic leadership, is beyond me,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey, who was also involved in the weekend meetings with Mr. Hoyer.

In a daring act for a freshman, Ms. Omar engaged in a Twitter fight with Ms. Lowey, the powerful chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, over the weekend. After Ms. Lowey urged her to retract the statement, Ms. Omar doubled down.

“I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee,” Ms. Omar wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Omar’s stand has created a delicate situation for Democratic leaders, who are also facing calls from some supporters of Israel to strip her of her seat on on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which Mr. Engel heads.

So far, the leaders have shown little inclination to do so, though Mr. Hoyer, the majority leader, told reporters last month that “there may be further actions that we will need to take” if remarks like the ones about Aipac continued.

And in an interview last month, Mr. Engel said he had a blunt talk with Ms. Omar before she took her seat on the panel.

“I talked to her about my views on Israel, and I said to her that we respect everyone’s views but this was something that I wasn’t going to allow to be swept under the rug,” he said. He added: “It wasn’t a confrontational meeting. She was pleasant, but I made it very clear to her where I stood and what I expected.”

Congressional allies of Ms. Omar say she is in an impossible situation in which her every utterance is now scrutinized.

“I think she is under a serious microscope,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, a chairwoman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, who was present when Ms. Omar made her remarks last week but said she was distracted and did not hear them. “She has to be really careful about her language, but I also think she has shown a real willingness to learn.”

And Ms. Omar’s defenders say Republicans are not facing nearly the same kind of scrutiny. Mr. Nadler accused Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, of anti-Semitism for using a dollar sign for the “S” in Tom Steyer’s name. Mr. Steyer, the billionaire liberal activist, has Jewish roots.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, drew protests when he tweeted during the midterm campaigns that George Soros, Michael R. Bloomberg and Mr. Steyer — all billionaires with Jewish roots — were trying to buy the election.

And it took years for Republican leaders to take action against Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, despite a long history of racist and bigoted comments. He was removed from his committee assignments this year after questioning when “white supremacy” had become an offensive term.

But many lawmakers have been silent on the Jordan tweet — a point that IfNotNow, the organization of young Jews, noted in its support for Omar.

“Our generation refuses to ignore the shameful role the out-of-touch leaders in our community have played in elevating the attack on Ilhan, while ignoring the anti-Semitism from Rep. Jim Jordan,” IfNotNow said in a statement, adding, “Instead of combating the most severe dangers against Jews and all marginalized people, our Jewish and political leaders are attacking one of the first Muslim women in Congress.”

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