WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives passed a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism and many other forms of hatred Thursday, after days of internal clashing in the Democratic Party over whether Rep. Ilhan Omar was being unfairly targeted for comments she has made about Israel and supporters of Israel.
Twenty-three Republicans, however, ultimately voted against the measure while all Democrats, including Omar, supported it. The final vote was 407–23 with Republican Rep. Steve King voting "present."
The resolution does not name Omar, but it was crafted in response to remarks she made last week at a Washington, DC, bookstore event where she said she wanted to “talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” comments that members of both parties interpreted as an allusion to “dual loyalty” stereotypes of American Jews. Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert said it was “dangerous” for Democrats to have expanded the resolution by making it about all kinds of hate, and he ultimately voted against it. Gohmert said anti-Semitism is “a very special kind of hatred that should never be watered down."
Asked why he voted against the resolution, Rep. Lee Zeldin said it was over moral equivalency and a double standard. He said if a Republican had uttered Omar's statements the resolution would have named them and been solely about anti-Semitism. "They filled it up with moral equivalency, taking anti-Semitism and describing an unlimited amount of other things to put on the same level," he said.
The issue has vexed Democratic leadership, and exposed a rift between members of the caucus who want to directly rebuke Omar for comments they believe to be anti-Semitic and those who feel the freshman Democrat, who is Muslim, has been unfairly attacked.
Another motion to condemn anti-Semitism, inspired by separate remarks by Omar, was passed less than a month ago. At the time she apologized for unintentionally expressing anti-Semitic tropes about the financial influence of Jewish groups. But Omar has stood by her more recent comments as a legitimate foreign policy debate and rejected the charges of anti-Semitism. Pushback from the Congressional Black Caucus and progressives caused party leaders to shelve their first version of the resolution, which focused principally on anti-Semitism and they felt it more directly singled out Omar.
“I do think there’s a double standard. I do think she’s under intense scrutiny,” said House Progressive Caucus cochair Pramila Jayapal.
Rising progressive star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez pointed to Republican Rep. Steve King, who faced no punishment for years despite a history of making racist comments. “My real concern here is there’s a disturbing pattern of these remarks coming from the Republican Party. It’s not treated the same way,” she said.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi found herself in a tough balancing act. On Thursday morning she told reporters she is confident Omar is not anti-Semitic; she added, “I do not believe she understood the full weight of the words [she said last week]." At the same time, she insisted she was not singling out Omar or shutting out legitimate debate.
“We’re not policing the speech of our members, we’re condemning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia and white supremacy,” said Pelosi.
The reaction from Pelosi’s leadership team has also been mixed: Foreign Affairs Committee chair Eliot Engel said Omar invoked “a vile anti-Semitic slur.” House Majority Whip James Clyburn said people need to consider that Omar fled violence in her birth country of Somalia and lived for years in a Kenyan refugee camp. “There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors. My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her,” said Clyburn in an interview with the Hill. His comments have also sparked criticism.
After two days of retooling, Democratic leaders released an expanded seven-page version of the resolution that outlines many forms of hate against Jewish people and other minorities, including Muslims, LGBTQ Americans, Latinos, and African Americans.
The resolution repeatedly mentions the “pernicious myth of dual loyalty” — the idea that Jewish people cannot be fully loyal to the United States because of commitments to Israel, a trope that the resolution notes has been used in the past against Catholics.
Many critics argued the “allegiance to a foreign country” line was a textbook example of the myth of dual loyalty. They also argue it constitutes a pattern for Omar, after her tweet last month that a political opponent’s support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins.” She also tweeted in 2012 that Israel had “hypnotized the world.” Omar apologized for both of those remarks, but has stood by her latest comments.
“Being opposed to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic,” she tweeted. “I am grateful to the many Jewish allies who have spoken out and said the same.”
The resolution passed Thursday condemns “the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance.”