US congresswoman Ilhan Omar has hit back after a rare rebuke from her Democratic Party colleagues over her remarks that seemed to place the United States and Israel in the same category as the Palestinian resistance group Hamas and the Afghan armed group Taliban.
The Muslim American congresswoman on Monday tweeted: “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban”, drawing bipartisan condemnation and even seeing her accused of “anti-Semitism”.
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“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” she tweeted, along with a video of her questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken regarding the US opposition to International Criminal Court (ICC) inquiries into alleged war crimes in Israel and Afghanistan.
A dozen Jewish lawmakers called on Omar on Wednesday to “clarify her words”, arguing that “equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided”.
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) June 11, 2021
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, jumped in. “Drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the US 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,” Pelosi said in a statement.
But Omar pushed back, slamming the Jewish lawmakers’ comments as “shameful” and “Islamophobic tropes”.
“The Islamophobic tropes in their statement are offensive. The constant harassment and silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable”, the Minnesota representative tweeted.
“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.
Omar’s spokesperson Jeremy Slevin, said in a statement on Thursday that the group of lawmakers were “ginning up the same Islamophobic hate against her” as far-right foes who initially attacked Omar over her tweet.
Slevin had said earlier that Omar reached out to the group ahead of their statement’s release to offer clarification, but her calls were not returned.
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.
The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable. https://t.co/37dy2UduW0
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) June 10, 2021
As the criticism mounted, Omar clarified her stance in a statement on Thursday: “On Monday, I asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about ongoing International Criminal Court investigations.
“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 US and Israel.
“I was in no way equating terrorist organisations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” she added.
Omar also shared a threatening voicemail her office received. She said in a tweet: “Every time I speak out on human rights I am inundated with death threats.”
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) June 10, 2021
Despite the criticisms made against Omar, many lawmakers rallied to her defence.
US representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is among a group of progressive legislators who have criticised US policy towards Israel, called out what she described as Omar’s constant targeting and vilification.
“Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus,” the New York Democrat tweeted.
“They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”
Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus.
They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) June 10, 2021
Also coming to her defence, Democratic representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan criticised the statement by House Democratic leaders, saying in a tweet: “Freedom of speech doesn’t exist for Muslim women in Congress. The benefit of the doubt doesn’t exist for Muslim women in Congress. House Democratic leadership should be ashamed of its relentless, exclusive tone policing of Congresswomen of color.”
Freedom of speech doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress. The benefit of the doubt doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress. House Democratic leadership should be ashamed of its relentless, exclusive tone policing of Congresswomen of color.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) June 10, 2021
Representative Ayanna Pressley condemned “bad faith attempts” to take Omar’s “words out of context”, while representative Jamaal Bowman urged fellow Democrats to “recognise the biases that fuel personal attacks, and defend our colleagues”.
“When a woman, person of color, or Muslim speaks out against injustice, backlash ensues,” Bowman tweeted. “When [Omar] speaks out, the vitriol is compounded by her being all three.”
Progressive Democrats continued to express support for Omar throughout the day on Thursday, with the Congressional Progressive Caucus issuing a statement saying that Omar’s “voice is critical and necessary”.
What @IlhanMN said — that the US and Israel have committed many of the same crimes as Hamas and the Taliban — is very similar to what Trump said to Bill O'Reilly when he compared US crimes to the Kremlin's.
Both were right. And both outrage cycles were fake and propagandistic. https://t.co/dkXMn8UAVw
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 10, 2021
“We cannot ignore a right-wing media echo chamber that has deliberately and routinely attacked a Black, Muslim woman in Congress, distorting her views and intentions, and resulting in threats against [her] and her staff,” the statement said. “We urge our colleagues not to abet or amplify such divisive and bad-faith tactics.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic party leaders said that they “welcome clarification” by Omar that “there is no moral equivalency between the US and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban”.
This is not the first time that Omar’s criticism of Israel put her at odds with members of her own party. In 2019, she apologised after members from both parties accused her of “anti-Semitism” for implying money was behind support for Israel.
The latest furore in the US Congress comes weeks after a fragile peace deal was agreed upon following an 11-day Israeli war on besieged Gaza that left more than 250 Palestinians dead, including 66 children. At least 12 people, including two children, were killed in Israel in rocket attacks carried out by Palestinian armed factions.