After outcry, Omar insists she wasn’t equating US, Israel with terror groups

But progressive congresswoman also attacks as ‘shameful’ and ‘Islamophobic’ a statement by 12 Jewish colleagues against her earlier comments on alleged war crimes

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar addresses media after lunch at the Mercado Central in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 11, 2020, primary election day in Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar addresses media after lunch at the Mercado Central in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on August 11, 2020, primary election day in Minnesota. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Thursday hit back against criticism from Jewish colleagues who accused her of equating the US and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban.

“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,” Omar tweeted. “The Islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”

Her post linked to a statement signed by 12 Jewish Democrats who said Ilhan’s grouping of the US and Israel with the Taliban and Hamas in remarks about pursuing war crimes prosecutions gave “cover to terrorist groups.”

In a subsequent statement on Thursday, Omar said: “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 added. She did not tweet the statement.

Omar had posted footage on Monday of her questioning US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing over the Biden administration’s opposition to International Criminal Court investigations in Afghanistan, Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

“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 US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban,” she wrote in the post that included the HFAC hearing footage.

The tweet drew sharp criticism from centrist and rightist pro-Israel groups and Israeli officials, as well as Republicans and conservative media.

The matter also became the focus of a Wednesday meeting of the unofficial caucus of 25 Jewish Democrats in the House, which had been convened to discuss the recent uptick in antisemitism, but was steered by Rep. Brad Schneider to focus on Omar.

Almost half of the caucus agreed to back a statement calling Omar’s comparison 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.”

“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.”

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

While Omar came under fire from all directions, several progressive Democrats spoke out in her defense.

“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”

“Stop attacking @IlhanMN. Stop attacking us,” tweeted Rep. Cori Bush. “I’m not surprised when Republicans attack Black women for standing up for human rights. But when it’s Democrats, it’s especially hurtful. We’re your colleagues. Talk to us directly. Enough with the anti-Blackness and Islamophobia.”

“Stop the bad faith attempts to take @IlhanMN’s words out of context. She called a simple question,” wrote Rep. Ayana Pressley. “The ICC exists to investigate and exact recourse when human rights are violated. Imagine if Congress was as outraged by what Palestinians endure daily.”

JTA contributed to this report

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