MINNEAPOLIS — U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar said Thursday that she "was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems," after her tweet earlier this week spurred harsh criticism from Republicans and prominent Jewish Democrats.
Hours before, the Minnesota Democrat publicly clashed with some members of her own party after a dozen House Democrats criticized the congresswoman, saying in a statement that "equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided." Republicans, long critical of Omar, also pushed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to take action against the second-term lawmaker.
Omar has been a vocal critic of Israel's government and a prominent advocate for Palestinian human rights. Her strongly held views have put her at odds in key moments with Jewish Democrats such as Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, one of 12 lawmakers who signed on to the joint statement calling out Omar Wednesday night. The Democrats were publicly seeking clarification from Omar, which they later got, after they said "false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups."
The criticism stemmed from Omar's tweet following a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on Monday. Omar shared video of her exchange with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, noting opposition by the United States to certain investigations by the International Criminal Court.
"We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban. I asked @SecBlinken where people are supposed to go for justice," Omar said in the tweet. Her spokesperson noted that in 2020 the court "opened an investigation into alleged crimes committed by both the Taliban and the United States in Afghanistan, as well as allegations against Hamas and Israel in the 2014 Gaza conflict in 2021."
Omar clarified her comments in a statement on Thursday: "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."
But her Monday tweet set off a wave of GOP attacks led by the House GOP's campaign arm, the NRCC, chaired by Minnesota Rep. Tom Emmer. Republican House Leader Kevin McCarthy escalated the call for action against Omar before she released her clarification.
"Rep. Omar's anti-Semitic & anti-American comments are abhorrent," McCarthy tweeted. "Speaker Pelosi's continued failure to address the issues in her caucus sends a message to the world that Democrats are tolerant of anti-Semitism and sympathizing with terrorists."
After Omar's clarification, House Democratic leaders said they welcomed it and appeared to publicly use the development to try to calm the situation within the party. Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership team made clear however that "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." The head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, where Omar serves as whip, made a show of support for her later.
The situation also exposed a difference in tone among Minnesota's four House Democrats. Rep. Angie Craig, whose seat is seen as a potential GOP pickup opportunity in the 2022 midterms, said in a statement that "to equate the democracies of America and Israel to terrorist organizations is completely inappropriate and unacceptable."
However, another Minnesota Democrat who has defended Palestinian human rights blasted Republicans when asked about Omar's actions.
"Rep. Omar asked a serious question which is her right as a member of Congress," Rep. Betty McCollum, who holds a safe blue seat, said in a statement. "But the hypocrites at the NRCC, including Chairman Tom Emmer, should be reminded of their silence when the Trump administration sat down with the Taliban to negotiate a diplomatic agreement without the Afghan government while American service members and Afghan civilians were being attacked and killed."
This isn't the first time Omar has drawn prominent criticism from within her own party. Omar apologized in 2019 over a tweet that implied money is behind lawmakers' support toward Israel. Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders said in a statement at that time that "Omar's use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel's supporters is deeply offensive."
Even after Omar's clarification Thursday, some Republicans still wanted action. "She meant what she said," Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas tweeted. "Ilhan Omar needs to be stripped of her committee assignments now.
In a tweet Wednesday night, Omar said "every time I speak out on human rights I am inundated with death threats," and tweeted audio of one message that included a racial slur. She pointed to a Fox News online story of her Monday tweet and a tweet from a GOP member of Congress, saying "this is incited directly by articles like this and far right politicians like this. And it is enabled by a political culture — in both parties — that allows and often fuels Islamophobia."
In a pair of early morning tweets before her clarification, Omar pointed to the statement from the dozen Democrats on Twitter and called it "shameful" that fellow members of Congress "who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for "clarification" and not just call." She further charged that "the islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive," and "the constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable."
Some House Democrats strongly defended Omar, including Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib. Omar and Tlaib are the only two Muslim women serving in the House.
"Freedom of speech doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress," Tlaib tweeted. "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."
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