12 Jewish Democrats call on Ilhan Omar to clarify remarks on US, Israel, Taliban

‘Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,’ the members of Congress declare

Congressional Progressive Caucus member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)
Congressional Progressive Caucus member Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Twelve of the 25 Jewish Democrats in the US House of Representatives said the grouping of the United States and Israel with the Taliban and Hamas in remarks about pursuing war crimes prosecutions gives “cover to terrorist groups,” and called on their colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota to clarify her earlier statements.

“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” said the statement released late Wednesday and spearheaded by Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois. “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.”

“The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups,” the statement continued. “We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the US and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban.”

The statement came after a meeting of the unofficial Jewish Democratic caucus earlier in the day that discussed the tweet Omar posted on Monday.

“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” she wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

Omar and a number of other progressives have been harshly critical of Israel in the wake of its conflict last month with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Some Jewish Democrats have broadly criticized their colleagues, but until Wednesday refrained from naming them.

The Jewish Democrats met Wednesday to discuss rising antisemitism after the Gaza conflict, but Schneider steered the conversation to Omar, whose tweet had drawn sharp criticism from centrist and rightist pro-Israel groups and Israeli officials, as well as Republicans and conservative media.

In the end, 11 of the 25 Jewish Democrats joined Schneider in the statement. The others are Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts; Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey; Elaine Luria of Virginia; Kathy Manning of North Carolina; Jerry Nadler of New York; Kim Schrier of Washington; Brad Sherman of California; and Dean Phillips of Minnesota, whose Minneapolis area district neighbors Omar’s.

Sources said there was unanimous frustration among the caucus members with Omar’s comment, but not about how to address it. Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a leading progressive, appeared to be hesitant, but did not outright oppose a statement, the sources said.

Representative Brad Schneider, Democrat-Ilinois, in Washington DC on January 28, 2020. (Samuel Corum/ GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP)

Some Jewish Democrats hesitated to make a statement. Omar’s spokesman, Jeremy Slevin, said her remarks were ripped from context and distorted by the right-wing. “As usual, the far right is ginning up hate against Rep. Omar for a technical question about an ongoing investigation,” he said. “It is the congresswoman’s role as a member of Congress conducting federal oversight to follow the facts, ask questions of the administration and work to make sure the public understands our government shouldn’t deny any person from seeking justice.”

Omar’s tweet contained a video of her questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken in Congress the same day about why the Biden administration opposes efforts by the International Criminal Court to probe nationals of certain countries for alleged war crimes.

Omar said she did not believe that Hamas, the Afghanistan government, the Taliban and Israel met the threshold of a military justice system sufficient to independently pursue justice.

“I haven’t seen in evidence in either case,” the Afghan and the Gaza conflicts, “that domestic courts both can and will prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” she said. “Where do we think victims are supposed to go for justice, and what justice mechanisms do you support?”

Slevin said her question focused on thanking the Biden administration for withdrawing sanctions on the ICC for considering prosecutions of US and Israeli officials, and asking what mechanism victims of alleged war crimes could access outside the ICC.

Israeli and mainstream pro-Israel officials expressed outrage over the Omar tweet.

“Beyond shocking. Beyond reprehensible,” David Harris, the American Jewish Committee CEO, said on Twitter. “Will members of her own party speak up?” Schneider was involved in AJC before entering Congress.

Sherman, who also has a pro-Israel background, posted: “It’s not news that Ilhan Omar would make outrageous and clearly false statements about America and Israel. What’s newsworthy is that she admits Hamas is guilty of ‘unspeakable atrocities. It’s time for all of Israel’s detractors to condemn Hamas. And it’s time for all those of good will to reject any moral equivalency between the US and Israel on one hand, and Hamas and the Taliban on the other.”

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