Ocasio-Cortez defends Ilhan Omar after alleged anti-Semitic remarks

Democrat party superstar says House members have been less resolute about reprimanding for bigotry aimed at groups other than Jews

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on "Meet the Press" in Washington, DC, July 1, 2018. (William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on "Meet the Press" in Washington, DC, July 1, 2018. (William B. Plowman/NBC/NBC NewsWire via Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) — US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez weighed in Tuesday on the Ilhan Omar controversy, saying it is “hurtful” that colleagues have reprimanded her fellow House freshman over alleged anti-Semitic remarks but have been less forthcoming about bigotry aimed at other groups.

House Democrats have taken to Twitter and advanced a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism — without naming Omar — after the Minnesota Democrat twice suggested that supporters for Israel are demanding “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat who has become a party superstar, counseled a less confrontational approach in dealing with comments like Omar’s.

“One of the things that is hurtful about the extent to which reprimand is sought of Ilhan is that no one seeks this level of reprimand when members make statements about Latinx and other communities,” Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter.

“‘Calling out’ is one of the measures of last resort, not 1st or 2nd resort,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We do it when repeated attempts to ‘call in’ are disrespected or ignored. And I believe that Ilhan, in her statement a few weeks ago, has demonstrated a willingness to listen+work with impacted communities.”

Omar has apologized for past and more recent tweets that invoke anti-Semitic tropes, including one from 2012 in which she said Israel “hypnotized” the world, and another more recently in which she said that pro-Israel lobbyists pay off lawmakers for their support. After the second incident she thanked “Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”

But last week she reset the fire when she said at a town hall that supporters of Israel “push for allegiance to a foreign country.” That prompted a fraught exchange on Twitter with Jewish members of the caucus who said her remarks recall the “dual loyalty” charge often leveled at Jews. The resolution that Democrats are advancing this week decries anti-Semitism.

“If we called [for] resolutions on sexist statements, a good chunk of Congress would be gone,” Ocasio-Cortez said in her Twitter thread. “To jump to the nuclear option every time leaves no room for corrective action. So I ask *everyone* that we practice calling in before calling out.”

Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota listens as lawmakers speak about the Voting Rights Enhancement Act on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 26, 2019. (Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP)

On Monday, Ocasio-Cortez took on a fellow Democrat, Juan Vargas of California, who also criticized Omar. Vargas said on Twitter: “It is disturbing that Rep. Omar continues to perpetuate hurtful anti-Semitic stereotypes that misrepresent our Jewish community. Additionally, questioning support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is unacceptable.”

“I’m curious if Rep. Vargas will further explain his stance here that it’s unacceptable to even *question* US foreign policy,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

US President Donald Trump noted the controversy on his Twitter feed, referring to a petition asking Rep. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker and a California Democrat, to remove Omar from the influential Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Representative Ilhan Omar is again under fire for her terrible comments concerning Israel,” Trump said late Monday. “Jewish groups have just sent a petition to Speaker Pelosi asking her to remove Omar from Foreign Relations Committee. A dark day for Israel!”

The petition was signed by 11 groups, two of which are not Jewish. Only one, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, is a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. The others are conservative and would not normally get a hearing from a Democratic speaker.

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