Three Democrats running for president have come to the defense of Rep. Ilhan Omar as House Democratic leadership is considering a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in response to Omar’s comments about Israel’s influence on American politics.
Sens. Kamala Harris, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren have each put out statements Wednesday condemning anti-Semitism and suggesting that personal condemnation of Omar has gone too far.
“We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America,” Harris said in a statement Wednesday night. “But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk. We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy.”
Sanders issued a similar worry in an earlier statement Wednesday obtained by HuffPost, saying he “fears” that the resolution from the House's Democratic leadership was an “effort to target Congresswoman Omar” and a “way of stifling debate” about Israel. “That’s wrong,” he said.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in a Wednesday night statement that "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. Threats of violence — like those made against Rep. Omar — are never acceptable."
The comments come as the proposed resolution has stalled amid a backlash from progressive organizations, activists, and some Democrats who have called out party leadership for singling out Omar.
Omar, a first-year Democrat from Minnesota, said at a Washington, DC, bookstore event last week that 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 some on both sides of the aisle took as an allusion to “dual loyalty” stereotypes of American Jews.
Rep. Eliot Engel, the chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the comments invoked “a vile, anti-Semitic slur.”
This is the second time in recent weeks that Omar has been criticized as using anti-Semitic tropes: In early February, she was urged by House leadership to apologize for tweets suggesting that AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobbying organization, has bought off politicians.
In their statements Wednesday, Sanders, Harris, and Warren laid out their approach on the broader debate over Israel and anti-Semitism.
“You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country," Harris said in her statement. “I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism. At the end of the day, we need a two-state solution and a commitment to peace, human rights, and democracy by all leaders in the region — and a commitment by our country to help achieve that.”
In his statement, Sanders said: “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."
Warren said Americans "have a moral duty to combat hateful ideologies in our own country and around the world — and that includes both anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia," and that "in a Democracy, we can and should have an open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy."
The Congressional Progressive Caucus and and the Congressional Black Caucus have pushed for the House resolution, which is still not finalized, to be rewritten to include condemnations of anti-Muslim behavior, according to the New York Times.
On Wednesday morning, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told reporters the resolution was still being drafted and that there was not a date set for a vote.
BuzzFeed News has attempted to reach the other declared Democratic presidential candidates for comment on House leadership’s discussed resolution in response to Omar's comments. Those campaigns have not responded.