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- Several Democratic presidential candidates have rushed to the defense of freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who is under fire for making anti-Semitic comments about dual loyalties to Israel.
- House Democrats have waffled on the issue after criticisms from key progressive allies.
- Republicans have zeroed in on Omar’s comments, pushing for Democratic leadership to remove her from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.
Democrats running for president in 2020 have weighed-in on the controversy swirling around Capitol Hill regarding freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and the anti-Semitic comments she has repeatedly made and for which she has been pressured into apologizing.
The candidates, all vying for the nomination to challenge President Donald Trump, have tread carefully on how to condemn Omar’s comments without angering a liberal base eager to defend her against an onslaught of criticism from Republicans and Democratic establishment.
Sen. Kamala Harris of California, who announced her presidential run in January, attempted to walk the line between supporting Omar and condemning bigotry.
"We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America," Harris said in a statement.
"But like 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," she added. "We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country."
Harris also tried to distinguish what she said are valid criticisms of the Jewish state and real anti-Semitism.
"I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism," she said. "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 — and a commitment by our country to help achieve that."
Taking a stronger defense of Omar was Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who said in a statement, "We have a moral duty to combat hateful ideologies in our own country and around the world — and that includes both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia."
"In a democracy, we can and should have an open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy. Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians," Warren added. "Threats of violence — like those made against Rep. Omar — are never acceptable."
Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who recently announced his presidential bid, took a similar tone to Warren’s.
"Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world," he said. "We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace."
Sanders also characterized the efforts to condemn Omar’s remarks as an attempt to silence debate about Israel.
"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."
Republicans look to hammer Democrats over anti-Semitism
Republicans have pushed for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to strip Omar of her post on the Foreign Affairs Committee, as has Trump. At the White House last month when Omar was under fire for previous anti-Semitic comments, Trump also said the embroiled congresswoman should resign entirely.
"What she said is so deep-seeded in her heart that her lame apology, that’s what it was, it was lame and she didn’t mean a word of it, was just not appropriate," Trump said during a January cabinet meeting. "I think she should resign from Congress frankly, but at a minimum she shouldn’t be on committees, certainly that committee."
Other Republicans have echoed the president, increasing their criticism in recent days.
"Everybody is entitled to their own beliefs, but why would you have her on a committee that sensitive to our foreign policy if she has those kinds of anti-Semitic beliefs unless you are willing to tolerate it?" said House Minority Whip Steve Scalise during an appearance on Fox News. "It shouldn’t be tolerated. She ought to be removed immediately from the Foreign Affairs Committee."
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