House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she welcomed a clarification from Rep. Ilhan Omar over a tweet about Israel that critics on both sides of the aisle said had unfairly compared the U.S. and Israel to terrorist groups.
In a written statement, Pelosi, D-Calif., said that “drawing 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 peace and security for all.
“We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban,” Pelosi continued.
Jewish lawmakers criticized Omar, D-Minn., for the tweet she posted Monday showing a video of her questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken about how domestic courts can handle war crimes. Accompanying the clip, Omar added a message that read, “We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. I asked [Blinken] where people are supposed to go for justice.”
A group of legislators led by Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., released a statement late Wednesday condemning Omar’s tweet: “Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided. 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.”
In response, Omar initially blasted her fellow Democrats.
“It’s shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for ‘clarification’ and not just call,” she wrote in a tweet on Wednesday. “The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”
On Thursday afternoon, however, Omar released a statement offering the requested clarification.
"To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those [International Criminal Court] cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel,” she wrote. “I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems."
With a number of key votes that will require a unified Democratic caucus, the statement from Pelosi appeared designed to strike a delicate balance, condemning the likening of Israel to terrorist groups while accepting Omar’s clarification.
Omar, a Somali refugee and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, has battled with pro-Israel members of Congress and Democratic leadership since taking office. In 2019, she apologized after making controversial comments about the pro-Israel lobby American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
While most Democrats stayed quiet on Omar’s latest remarks, she received backing from other progressives who have been more outspoken in their criticism of Israeli policy toward Palestinians.
“I am tired of colleagues (both D+R) demonizing [Omar],” tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., who is of Palestinian descent. “Their obsession with policing her is sick. She has the courage to call out human rights abuses no matter who is responsible. That’s better than colleagues who look away if it serves their politics.”
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of [Omar] coming from our caucus,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. “They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”
Ahead of Pelosi’s statement, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., tried to ramp up pressure on the speaker to take action against Omar.
“Rep. Omar's anti-Semitic & anti-American comments are abhorrent,” McCarthy tweeted. “Speaker Pelosi’s continued failure to address the issues in her caucus sends a message to the world that Democrats are tolerant of anti-Semitism and sympathizing with terrorists. It’s time for the Speaker to act.”
Israel has faced increased scrutiny in Washington after weeks of military clashes between Israel and Hamas earlier this year that killed more than 200 Palestinian residents of Gaza and at least 12 Israelis. Omar, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez were among the Democrats supporting a resolution that would have delayed a $735 million arms deal between the U.S. and Israel.
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