House to vote on anti-hate resolution amid divide over Ilhan Omar

Pelosi says resolution 'will speak out against all forms of anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia and anti-white supremacy'

     Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, attends a press conference in the House Visitors Center at the US Capitol [File: Mandel Ngan/AFP]
    Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, attends a press conference in the House Visitors Center at the US Capitol [File: Mandel Ngan/AFP]

    The US House of Representatives is expected to vote on Thursday on a resolution "opposing hate" as Democrats try to move on from a controversy that has split the party and clouded their agenda.

    House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House will vote on a resolution that "will speak out against anti-Semitism, anti-Islamophobia, anti-white supremacy and all forms that it takes".

    The vote comes after House Democrats postponed an earlier vote, scheduled for Wednesday, condemning anti-Semitism after some within the party and some Jewish groups expressed concern over comments made last week by Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women in Congress. 

    During a Washington, DC, event last week, Omar said, "I want to talk about ... political influence in this country that says it's OK for people to push for allegiance for a foreign country. I want to ask why is it OK for me to talk about influence of the NRA, or fossil fuels industries, or big pharma, and not to talk about powerful lobbying that is influencing policy."

    Jonathan Greenblatt, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a letter to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi that the comments were a "vile anti-Semitic slur". Some in the House, including Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey, publicly criticised Omar and demanded an apology. 

    Pelosi, along with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, reportedly drafted a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that did not mention Omar, but was seen as an indirect rebuke of the congresswoman. 

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    The House passed a similar measure last month after Omar came under fire for using what some called an anti-Semitic trope when she quote-tweeted a tweet by Greenwald who criticised Republican Kevin McCarthy, for threatening "punishment" of Omar and fellow Muslim-American politician, Rashida Tlaib "over their criticisms of Israel".

    While quoting Greenwald's post, Omar wrote, "It's all about the Benjamins baby" followed by music note emojis. Facing pressure, Omar apologised for the reference.

    'Stifling debate'

    Following this week's events, however, many Democrats came to Omar's defence, saying the condemnation unfairly singles out Omar at a time when President Donald Trump and others have made disparaging racial comments.

    Senator Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, said in a statement to US media that he fears that House Republicans and others are targeting Omar "as a way of stifling ... debate" about Israel. 

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    "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," he said.

    Senator Kamala Harris said in her own statement that "we all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism and all forms of hatred and bigotry", but "there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism".

    Last week, Omar was the subject of an anti-Muslim attack in the West Virginia legislature, where a poster was displayed at a Republican-sponsored gathering that falsely linked her to the 9/11 attacks.

    The congresswoman has also said she is subjected to near-daily death threats.

    Pelosi on Thursday said the resolution will include broader language, adding that she believes Omar didn't realise her words about Israel would sound anti-Semitic to some powerful members of Congress.

    "I do not believe she understood the full weight of her words," Pelosi told reporters. "These words have a history and a cultural impact."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies