Rep. Ilhan Omar says she wasn't equating US, Israel to Hamas, Taliban after rebuke from fellow Democrats
WASHINGTON – A group of House lawmakers is criticizing Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., for what they said was comparing the human rights records of the United States and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban – a rare public rebuke against a fellow Democrat.
"Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided," Illinois Rep. Brad Schneider and 11 other Democrats wrote in a joint statement issued late Wednesday. "Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice."
"The United States and Israel are imperfect and, like all democracies, at times deserving of critique, but false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups," they said. "We urge Congresswoman Omar to clarify her words placing the US and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban."
Schneider led the group, which included Reps. Jake Auchincloss (Massachusetts), Ted Deutch (Florida), Lois Frankel (Florida), Josh Gottheimer (New Jersey), Elaine Luria (Virginia), Kathy Manning (North Carolina), Jerrold Nadler (New York), Dean Phillips (Minnesota), Kim Schrier (Washington), Brad Sherman (California), and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Florida).
The group was reacting to a tweet Omar posted Monday.
"We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity," she tweeted. "We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban."
She included a video of her questioning Secretary of State Antony Blinken during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing Monday. Several of the Democrats who criticized Omar sit with her on the panel. Her questioning came roughly two weeks after a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas took effect following an 11-day military confrontation that left hundreds dead and sparked international alarm.
In an early Thursday tweet responding to her colleagues, Omar called it "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."
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive Democrat from New York, rushed to Omar's defense, saying critics intentionally distorted her remarks.
"Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus," she tweeted. "They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her."
Later in the day, Omar explained that she was not drawing a moral equivalency but that she instead was asking Blinken about ongoing International Criminal Court investigations into alleged atrocities.
"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," she said in a statement posted on her congressional website. "I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems."
Democratic House leaders, led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued a statement trying to quell the uproar and said they "welcome the clarification" from Omar.
“Legitimate criticism of the policies of both the United States and Israel is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate. And indeed, such criticism is essential to the strength and health of our democracies," they wrote. "But 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."
Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in Congress, has been a controversial figure since being elected in 2018. Then-President Donald Trump routinely attacked her and other members of "The Squad," women of color in Congress who advocate more liberal social policies.
She also drew fire from Republicans in 2019 over her comments about 9/11 that critics said minimized the terrorist attack that killed thousands of Americans in 2001. Democrats came to her defense then, arguing Omar's remarks were taken out of context.