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June 10, 2021 2:22 pm

Rep. Ilhan Omar ‘Clarifies’ Comments After 12 Jewish House Members Blast ‘False Equivalencies’ Between Israel and US, Hamas and Taliban

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Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar speaks at an election night watch party, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Eric Miller.

After criticism from 12 Jewish members of Congress for “equating” the US and Israel to the Taliban and Hamas, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) issued a statement on Thursday addressing her controversial comments from the day before, while Democratic party leadership issued a joint condemnation.

On Monday, Omar issued a tweet while sharing a contentious exchange with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, saying, “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. I asked @SecBlinken where people are supposed to go for justice.”

The Wednesday letter in response was issued by Democratic Reps. Brad Schneider, Jake Auchincloss, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Josh Gottheimer, Elaine Luria, Kathy Manning, Jerrold Nadler, Dean Phillips, Kim Schrier, Brad Sherman, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.

It stated, “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.”

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“The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups,” it asserted.

The signatories stated, “We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the US and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.”

The Minnesota Representative responded in a statement on Thursday, saying, “On Monday, I asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about … ongoing International Criminal Court investigations. To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel.”

“I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” she said.

Omar’s response was followed by a rare joint statement issued by the entire Democratic House leadership which “welcome[d] her clarification … that there is no moral equivalency between the US and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban.”

“Legitimate criticism of the policies of both the United States and Israel is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate. And indeed, such criticism is essential to the strength and health of our democracies,” said the group, which included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD), Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (SC), Assistant Speaker Katherine Clark (MA), Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (NY) and Vice Caucus Chairman Pete Aguilar (CA).

“But drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the US and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all.”

Rep. Brad Schneider welcomed Omar’s statement on Thursday, saying that he was “pleased @Ilhan heard our concerns about her tweet, issued a clarification, and agrees with our point. I hope all can avoid such offhanded statements in the future as we work together to support American jobs & families.”

Earlier on Thursday, Avi Mayer, the Managing Director of Global Communications for the American Jewish Committee, praised the letter, but asked why only Jewish congresspeople had signed it.

“This is important,” he said. “But also: why are only Jewish Democratic members of Congress calling Omar out for (insanely, outrageously) comparing the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban?”

“Where’s the rest of the Democratic Caucus?” he asked.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, responded to the letter by simply saying, “Well said.”

Republicans also criticized Omar, with the party’s House leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy saying, “Rep. Omar’s antisemitic & anti-American comments are abhorrent.”

He also criticized House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over what he termed a “continued failure to address the issues in her caucus,” which “sends a message to the world that Democrats are tolerant of antisemitism and sympathizing with terrorists.”

In initially responding to the letter by the Jewish Democrats, Omar slammed the signatories for making a public statement against her own, saying, “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 also accused her critics of bigotry, saying, “The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”

There is no evidence that the signatories to the letter have harassed Omar, and the letter made no mention of Islam.

In 2019, antisemitic comments from Omar about US support for Israel prompted bipartisan condemnations from members of Congress and ultimately a House resolution denouncing antisemitism.

Israel critic and Omar ally Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) also attacked the signatories of the letter, asserting that they were “demonizing” Omar and that “their obsession with policing her is sick.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated with statements from Rep. Ilhan Omar and Democratic House leadership

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