Divides among House Democrats exploded today beginning in a closed door session this morning where lawmakers argued with party leadership over a resolution to denounce anti-Semitism, an apparent move to condemn Rep. Ilhan Omar.
According to the Washington Post the meeting descended into a “full-scale brawl” when representatives, primarily from the Congressional Black Caucus called to cancel the vote, and in an unexpected turn, was delayed indefinitely by early evening. One source in the room said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) demanded, “Everyone stop tweeting!” as decorum fell.
The Post spoke with several lawmakers who opposed sanctioning one of their own members, while at the same time ignoring anti-Semitic comments from GOP officials. Some raised that Democrats never produced legislation to denounce the White House— comments in likely reference to President Donald Trump’s statement about “good people on both sides” in the wake of the Charlottesville march in 2017 where a white nationalist killed a protester:
“We need to have equity in our outrage,” said Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), who after the meeting said she was focused on “the occupant of this White House who is seeding every form of hate, emboldening it with racist rhetoric and policies. That is who we all need to be focused on, and this is a distraction.”
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) was among the first members to speak up in the meeting, asking, “Why are we doing this?” She said afterward any resolution would be “redundant and unnecessary.”
“We’ve individually and collectively already responded to the fact that we oppose all ‘-isms’ that do not treat people in this country fairly and justly,” she said. “To continue to engage in this discussion is simply an opportunity to give both the media and Republicans distractions from our agenda. We’ve got important work to do.”
Late this afternoon Senator Bernie Sander’s (I-VT) office released a statement today that called the bill “wrong.”
“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace,” the Hill reported.
“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong,” Sanders said.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) also issued a statement following Sanders. “We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America,” Harris said according to the Huffington Post. “But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk.”
The bill endorses an expansive definition of anti-Semitism that includes anti-Zionism adopted by the State Department in 2010 and drafted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The four-page resolution denounces “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interest of the own nations.” One line praises Jewish enlistment in the U.S. military.
The language is widely regarded as a reference to Omar. Although it does not name her it seems to respond to part of a talk she gave last Wednesday at a Washington DC bookshop where she talked about a “powerful lobby group” that pushes “for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Her comments were widely misattributed to an anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalties” for American Jews. Yet a recording of the talk posted to Facebook show she was talking about lobby groups not a religious group:
“Nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of ‘what is happening with Palestine?’ So for me, I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country. I want to ask, why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil-fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy,” she said.
Even so, attendees of the morning meeting who asked the Post to withhold their names from publication said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi repeated claims that Omar had decried Jewish-Americans for alleged loyalties to Israel over the U.S.
“You can disagree wholeheartedly, but do not question their patriotism or their loyalty to our country in any way, and that holds for the Republicans as well,” Pelosi reportedly said.
Democrats’ pressure against Omar began earlier in the week. Rep. Juan Vargas (D-CA) tweeted on Monday, “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.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) responded:
I‘m curious if Rep. Vargas will further explain his stance here that it’s unacceptable to even *question* US foreign policy.
Plenty of Dem members have asserted that discussion + debate on this issue is fair and merited. Is this stance a departure from that? https://t.co/2tcelsxFCU
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 5, 2019
Indeed many of Omar’s supporters not only want a debate on Israel, they share her views.
While a majority of American are sympathetic towards Israel that support is declining with the sharpest decrease among liberal Democrats, Omar’s base. A Gallup poll released today shows 38 percent of liberal Democrats sympathize more with the Palestinians, as compared to 41 percent who sympathize more with Israel. The survey found national support for Israel is at an all time low since 2009, and down five percent from last year alone.
— GallupNews (@GallupNews) March 6, 2019
Republicans who had already called for Omar to resign from the House Foreign Affairs committee doubled-down after the speech gained traction. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who is circulating his own resolution condemning anti-Semitism, wrote in an op-ed for the Hill on Monday to “remove Rep. Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and reject anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate once and for all.”
Zeldin’s bill’s, which names Louis Farrakhan and Women’s March organizer Tamika Mallory as forebears of anti-Semitism, was referred to a subcommittee in January. It could resurface in coming weeks as yesterday Senate leader Mitch McConnell told reporters while he had already covered chastising anti-Semitism vis-a-vis a bill against BDS movement, “we may well address it again.”
McConnell added that anti-Semitism “seems to be more fashionable in this country regretfully among at least some member of the new class in the House.”