Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), one of the few Jewish members of the U.S. Senate, is standing with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota).
After Omar accused pro-Israel lawmakers of having “allegiance… to a foreign country,” pro-Israel lobbyists called for her resignation, and for House Democratic leadership to strip her from her committee assignments. This is the second time in two months the pro-Israel lobby has accused Rep. Omar of being biased against Jewish people, following her “all about the Benjamins” tweet suggesting that pro-Israel groups like the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee used its vast sums of money to influence lawmakers to support pro-Israel policies.
House Democratic leadership recently attempted to pass a resolution rebuking Rep. Omar (without mentioning her name) for her past statements criticizing U.S. foreign policy toward Israel, suggesting her criticism of the current Israeli government is anti-Semitic. However, as Politico reported Tuesday, the vote on the resolution has been delayed until at least Thursday, and additional language added to also denounce Islamophobia, white supremacy, neo-Nazis, and other forms of hate.
Several prominent Democrats defended Omar, most notably Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), who is Palestinian. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), who is Jewish, urged Democrats to not conflate criticism of Israel’s government with anti-Semitism. And on Wednesday, Sen. Sanders denounced the effort to rebuke Omar, making him the highest-ranking Democratic official to defend Omar since the outrage over her tweet reached a fever pitch (Sanders is Senate Democrats’ head of outreach).
“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel,” Sanders stated. “Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace.”
“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate,” he added. “That’s wrong.”
After Sanders issued his statement, Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) also spoke up on Omar’s behalf. While Harris is not Jewish, she defended Omar — who is a black Somali immigrant — as a fellow black woman.
“[L]ike some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk,” Harris stated. “I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism. At the end of the day, we need a two-state solution and a commitment to peace, human rights, and democracy by all leaders in the region ― and a commitment by our country to help achieve that.”
Rep. Omar apologized for her “all about the Benjamins” tweet, and has deleted the tweets criticizing Israel. It’s not clear whether or not the initial resolution in question will be altered, or if a new resolution will be drafted altogether.
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.