The House voted to condemn several types of hatred Thursday with a watered-down resolution originally intended to condemn the perceived anti-Semitism of Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.
The resolution — which passed easily, 407-23 — decries anti-Semitism, in addition to anti-Muslim discrimination and white supremacy, but it doesn’t mention Omar by name. The language, however, does call out “imputations of dual loyalty," which "suggests that Jewish citizens cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors, when Jews have loyally served our Nation every day since its founding." Omar’s critics have accused her of perpetuating those sentiments with her repeated criticism of the U.S.’ relationship to Israel.
The resolution also condemns “death threats received by Jewish and Muslim Members of Congress, including in recent weeks.” That’s a clear reference to Omar, who has received a spike in death and assassination threats in the last several weeks.
Only Republicans voted against the resolution. For her part, Omar — and her colleagues Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Andre Carson — praised the House's "historic" vote.
"Today is historic on many fronts," they said in a joint statement. "It's the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation's history."
Democrats significantly expanded the resolution after backlash from progressives and activists who said recent attacks against Omar amounted to a calculated smear campaign against one of the only vocal critics of Israel in Congress. A vote condemning anti-Semitism was originally scheduled for Wednesday, but the resolution was delayed after Omar drew support from Jewish and Arab organizations, and some of her House colleagues, many of whom privately clashed with Democratic leaders over the planned resolution, which has been in the works since Monday.
“Why are we doing this?” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, a New Jersey Democrat, in a closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting, according to the Washington Post. “We’ve individually and collectively already responded to the fact that we oppose all isms that do not treat people in this country fairly and justly.”
Omar’s progressive colleague in the House, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, also publicly pondered why the resolution targeted Omar, specifically, and not other members’ conduct.
The version of the resolution that went to the floor reaches far beyond Omar and calls out neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and the white supremacists who stormed Charlottesville, Virginia, for the violent “Unite the Right” rally in August 2017. The language also includes some historical examples of “dual loyalty” accusations, such as those against President John F. Kennedy, who faced loyalty questions to the pope over his Catholic faith.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke on the floor before the vote and admonished against “all forms of hatred” as she attempted to differentiate anti-Semitism from criticism of Israel.
“I come to the floor almost emotionally to speak about this,” Pelosi said. “Not every one of us in this body agrees on every provision or any consideration in [the U.S.-Israel] relationship.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, a top Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs committee and one of Omar’s prominent critics, expressed dismay over anti-Semitism not getting its own resolution.
"I don't think we should mix everything,” he said, although he supported the resolution.
During the floor vote, Republicans expressed outrage over the broadening of the resolution and attempted to equate Omar, a black woman and one of the first two Muslim women ever elected Congress, to Rep. Steve King, a white Republican who has faced decades of accusations of racist rhetoric. In January, he faced his own resolution of condemnation — in which his name was included — after he publicly pondered why white supremacy and white nationalism were bad things to the New York Times.
“If that member was a Republican, that member’s name would be in this resolution,” said Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin from New York.
Congressional resolutions, on their face, are usually nothing more than rhetoric. Even if a resolution did mention Omar by name, she would have faced humiliation but no other formal punishment.
How the backlash started
Omar immediately came under fire when she disclosed shortly after her election that she supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel’s human-rights abuses in occupied Palestinian territories and against Palestinian citizens of Israel. She later tweeted “it’s all about the Benjamins” to criticize the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, in American politics and the use of money to steer foreign policy regarding Israel. Her opponents immediately characterized the tweet as anti-Semitic, and Omar later apologized.
The latest controversy came last week when Omar made a comment about “allegiance” to foreign countries at a bookstore event.
"I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country," Omar said.
Omar’s critics, including top Democratic Reps. Nita Lowey and Eliot Engel, called out her comments as an anti-Semitic assertion that Jews have “dual loyalty” to Israel and the United States. That time, however, Omar refused to apologize.
“I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel,” Omar tweeted Sunday. “I find that to be problematic, and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks.”
In the last week, Omar has been the target of Islamophobic insults — a poster likening her to a 9/11 terrorist was hung up at the West Virginia Capitol building — and assassination threats. Her defenders have also noted that people attacking the congresswoman haven’t thrown the same intensity against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other forms of hatred from the GOP. President Donald Trump — who once said there were “very fine people on both sides” of the clashes in Charlottesville — has also latched onto accusations of anti-Semitism against Omar.
On the other hand, Omar has received support from a swarm of prominent Democrats. Her progressive House colleagues, Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Tlaib, and Ocasio-Cortez, came to her defense, and 2020 presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris also said that legitimate criticism of Israel should not immediately be attacked.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, said he feared attacks against Omar were calculated to throw off the balance of the House Foreign Affairs committee, where she has emerged as a tough voice against American imperialism.
"What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate," Sanders said Wednesday. "That's wrong."
Additionally, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, a Democrat from New York, issued a scathing statement Thursday calling out Republicans’ targeting of Omar while remaining silent about their own colleagues.
Cover image: Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., sits with fellow Democrats, Rep. David Trone, D-Md., left, and Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., right, on the House Education and Labor Committee during a bill markup, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)