US Jews divided by House resolution condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry

US Jews divided by House resolution condemning anti-Semitism, bigotry

While some Jewish groups and leaders applaud the measure, others lambaste it for not mentioning Ilhan Omar by name or being watered down by inclusion of other types of hate

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a House Education and Labor Committee Markup on the H.R. 582 Raise The Wage Act, in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 6, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a House Education and Labor Committee Markup on the H.R. 582 Raise The Wage Act, in the Rayburn House Office Building on March 6, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP)

WASHINGTON — A House resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry appeared to heal a rift in the Democratic party but revealed divisions within the American Jewish community Thursday, with some groups welcoming the measure while others blasted it as watered down.

After Democrats spent days deliberating over whether — or how — to reprimand Rep. Ilhan Omar for comments that critics said amounted to accusing Jews of having “dual loyalty” to America and Israel, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a motion that denounced various kinds of hatred, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Weeks earlier, Omar apologized for insinuating that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee paid politicians to be pro-Israel.

But the bill, which was approved by a vote 407-23, was castigated by some US Jewish leaders for not directly censuring Omar’s remarks, which critics have said were anti-Semitic, and for diluting the point of the original draft of the resolution — addressing anti-Semitism.

“While we commend Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to bring to the floor the issue of anti-Semitism within its ranks, the politically expedient resolution failed to call out Representative Omar by name and failed to take into account the historically unique dimensions of the anti-Semitic themes trafficked by Rep. Omar,” the Simon Wiesenthal Center said in a statement shortly following the vote.

Likewise, Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, lamented the resolution as insufficient.

Ronald Lauder in Leipzig, Germany, Aug. 30, 2010 (Sean Gallup/Getty Images, via JTA)

“The House has regrettably chosen to water down the resolution, thus sanctioning Representative Ilhan Omar’s remarks, which put the loyalty of American Jewry into question,” Lauder said in a statement. “All forms of bigotry and xenophobia, including Islamophobia, should be condemned, but we must not forget the specific nature of antisemitism within the current climate of anti-Zionism and rising attacks against Jews.”

Other prominent Jewish groups, however, welcomed the resolution. The Anti-Defamation League said it was “pleased the House of Representatives took a firm stance against anti-Semitism, including making an explicit statement rejecting the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and other vile slurs that have been used to persecute Jews for centuries.”

The Orthodox Union welcomed the measure but said “it would have been better for the House of Representatives to respond to recent incidents of anti-Semitism with a resolution exclusively addressing that topic.”

Earlier this week, as Democratic leaders were circulating a draft of the resolution, the party’s younger members rebelled against the effort and demanded other forms of hate be included for censure.

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY., left, walks with Rep.-elect IIhan Omar, D-Minn., right, during a member-elect briefings on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that it was “hurtful” that her other colleagues were not punished for racist comments about other minorities. She cited a Republican who had recently screamed “Go back to Puerto Rico!” on the House floor.

Presidential candidates also pushed back against the idea that criticism of Israel be equated with anti-Semitism, including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, and California Senator Kamala Harris.

Others protested that Republican expressions of hate, including from President Donald Trump, had not merited the same response.

The split highlighted generational tensions within the party, with some liberal freshman lawmakers questioning the party’s orthodoxy on support for Israel.

Omar’s rhetoric, however, is taking Democrats to a place that leaves many uneasy. The new lawmaker suggested that Israel supporters were pushing her to pledge “allegiance” to a foreign country, reviving a trope of dual loyalties. Omar has also been critical of the Jewish state in the past and apologized for those previous comments. She has not apologized for her latest controversial remarks.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., walks to the chamber Thursday, March 7, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

The seven-page resolution details a history of recent attacks against Jews and Muslims, as it condemns all such discrimination as contradictory to “the values and aspirations” of the American people.

The text “rejects the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the United States and around the world, including the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.”

An earlier version focused more narrowly on anti-Semitism, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ultimately cohered her caucus into supporting a bill that more broadly condemned hatred and prejudice, with a specific emphasis on Islamophobia. Last weekend, a poster was spotted in the West Virginia state capitol, connecting Omar, one of the first Muslim congresswoman to the 9/11 attacks.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters during her weekly news conference, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, March 7, 2019. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

Some Democratic members of Congress voted for the resolution but still expressed consternation over its final form.

“I feel let down by some colleagues who seem to have questioned those of us who feel the weight of history when we hear classic anti-Semitic language – history that has led to targeting Jews, expelling Jews from their countries, violence against Jews, and attempts to exterminate the Jewish people,” said Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, who is Jewish. “Anti-Semitism is worthy of being condemned, singularly.”

Meanwhile, the Jewish Democratic Council of America, an advocacy group, passionately backed the measure.

“We support this strong denunciation of anti-Semitism and join the House in rejecting all forms of intolerance and hatred. Anti-Semitism does not emerge in a vacuum,” said JDCA Chairman Ron Klein. “It is an indication of larger trends of intolerance in society, and should be combated in conjunction with other forms of discrimination.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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