WASHINGTON (JTA) — After a dozen Jewish Democrats in Congress asked Rep. Ilhan Omar to clarify remarks in which she grouped Hamas and the Taliban with the United States and Israel, she complied — but not before she got something off her chest.
An insinuation in the request that she was covering for terrorists was Islamophobic, Omar said in a tweet, and she exhorted her colleagues to call first next time.
“On Monday, I asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about ongoing International Criminal Court investigations,” Omar said Thursday afternoon. “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 U.S. and Israel. I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”
She was replying to a request late Wednesday from 12 of the 25 Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives to clarify her earlier statements in which she grouped the United States and Israel with the Taliban and Hamas. That request came out of a meeting earlier of the unofficial caucus of House Jewish Democrats in which Brad Schneider of Illinois made the case for a statement calling out Omar.
Omar’s tweet Monday said, “We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. … We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
The House leadership team, led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, (D-Calif.), on Thursday welcomed the clarification. “Drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all,” said a statement from Pelosi’s office. “We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban.”
Omar’s tweet on Monday tweet sparked immediate outrage from Republicans, Israeli officials and some pro-Israel groups.
Omar’s intent seemed clearer if one watched the video that accompanied her tweet. It showed her question and answer session in Congress the same day, where she pressed Blinken on how the Biden administration proposed that alleged victims of war crimes seek redress, given that it opposed the ICC investigations into the two conflicts she cited.
“Where do we think victims are supposed to go for justice, and what justice mechanisms do you support?” she asked Blinken.
An hour or so after the Jewish Democrats released their formal request, following a long meeting in which the propriety of doing so was debated, Omar tweeted that threats against her had intensified because of the controversy. She said the request for clarification — which she fulfilled 12 hours later — was itself bigoted. She was also furious that the Jewish Democrats who issued the statement did not first reach out to her.
“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,” she said. “The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable.”
Omar’s Jewish spokesman, Jeremy Slevin, in a separate tweet said that accusing a Muslim member of Congress of covering for terrorism was Islamophobic.
Also calling out the 12 Jewish members for not dealing with the issue privately first was Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the New York Democrat who is a leader of the “squad” of progressives that includes Omar.
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” Ocasio Cortez said on Twitter. “They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”