The House of Representatives in the United States on Thursday voted to condemn anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination and other bigotry against minorities, with the Democrats trying to push past a dispute that has overwhelmed their agenda and exposed faultlines that could dog them through elections next year.
The one-sided 407-23 followed the postponement of an earlier vote condemning anti-Semitism after some Democrats and some Jewish groups expressed concern over comments made last week by Representative Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim women in Congress, in which she suggested House supporters of Israel have dual allegiances.
“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,” Omar said during a Washington, DC event. “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.”
After the event, 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 over the weekend condemning anti-Semitism that did not mention Omar, but was seen as an indirect rebuke of the congresswoman.
The House passed a similar measure last month after Omar came under fire for using what some called an anti-Semitic trope. Omar apologised at the time.
A statement posted to Omar’s Facebook after the vote, and signed by two other Muslim lawmakers, praised Thursday’s resolution.
“We are tremendously proud to be part of a body that has put forth a condemnation of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism, racism, and white supremacy,” it said.
“At a time when extremism is on the rise, we must explicitly denounce religious intolerance of all kinds and acknowledge the pain felt by all communities. Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress.”
Following the most recent events, however, many Democrats came to Omar’s defence, saying this week’s condemnation would have unfairly singled out Omar at a time when President Donald Trump and others have made disparaging racial comments.
Last week, Omar was also 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.
In a statement this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, “Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians.” She said threats of violence, including those made against Omar, “are never acceptable.”
Independent 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.
“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.
The divide within the party reportedly prompted Democratic leaders to consider a resolution that included broader language.
Thursday’s resolution condemns anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities “as hateful expressions of intolerance”.
The seven-page document details a history of recent attacks not only against Jews in the US but also Muslims, as it condemns all such discrimination as contradictory to “the values and aspirations” of the people in the US. The vote was delayed for a time on Thursday to include mention of Latinos to address concerns of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The addition came under a section that stated in the end, “Whereas white supremacists in the United States have exploited and continue to exploit bigotry and weaponize hate for political gain, targeting traditionally persecuted peoples, including African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of colour, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others with verbal attacks, incitement, and violence.”
Speaking before the vote, Pelosi said she does not believe that Omar understood the “weight of her words” or that they would be perceived by some as anti-Semitic. The resolution does not mention Omar by name.
“It’s not about her. It’s about these forms of hatred,” Pelosi said. Asked whether the resolution was intended to “police” politicians’ words, Pelosi replied, “We are not policing the speech of our members. We are condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacy.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York called the new version of the resolution “appropriate”.
“Everyone is entitled to their opinion, they are allowed to have free speech in this country,” Gillibrand said. “But we don’t need to use anti-Semitic tropes or anti-Muslim tropes to be heard.”