House’s Anti-Semitism Resolution Surfaces Generational Fight Over Ilhan Omar

WASHINGTON — The decision by House Democratic leaders to put a resolution condemning anti-Semitism on the House floor Wednesday has touched off a furious debate between older House Democrats and a new breed of young liberal activists over whether Representative Ilhan Omar is being singled out for disparate treatment.

The issue is pitting veteran Democrats like Representatives Eliot L. Engel, Nita M. Lowey and Jerrold Nadler — all of whom lead major House committees, and all of whom are Jewish — against Ms. Omar and left-leaning groups like Justice Democrats and IfNotNow, a movement led by young Jews to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. It was prompted by comments and tweets from Ms. Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, that were characterized as anti-Semitic.

A draft of the resolution being circulated on Capitol Hill does not name Ms. Omar. But there is little question it is aimed at her.

It states that “accusing Jews of dual loyalty because they support Israel, whether out of a religious connection, a commitment to Jewish self-determination after millennia of persecution or an appreciation for shared values and interests, suggests that Jews cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors, when Jews have served our nation since its founding, whether in public life or military service.”

Such sentiments may be broadly accepted, but in the fight over Ms. Omar, generational battle lines are emerging.

“Our generation refuses to ignore the shameful role the out-of-touch leaders in our community have played in elevating the attack on Ilhan,” IfNotNow said in a statement, adding, “Instead of combating the most severe dangers against Jews and all marginalized people, our Jewish and political leaders are attacking one of the first Muslim women in Congress.”

And President Trump’s decision to insert himself into the fight has only inflamed it.

Over the weekend, top Democrats — including Representative Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, the majority leader, along with Mr. Engel, Ms. Lowey, Mr. Nadler and others — gathered to determine how to respond to Ms. Omar’s latest statement, in which she suggested that pro-Israel activists “push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Ms. Omar, in a daring act for a freshman, engaged in a Twitter fight with Ms. Lowey over the weekend, in which Ms. Lowey called Saturday for Ms. Omar to retract the comment.

“I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel,” Ms. Lowey wrote. “I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.”

Ms. Omar responded by quoting Ms. Lowey and doubling down on her own remarks.

“I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee,” Ms. Omar wrote on Twitter.

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York, came to Ms. Omar’s defense, laying bare the generational divide vexing Democrats. She suggested that comments obliquely expressing racism or bigotry toward Latinos have never sparked such a furious backlash and rapid response from leadership.

The House already voted last month to condemn anti-Semitism — two days after Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the entire Democratic leadership condemned Ms. Omar and forced her to apologize for a Twitter post in which she insinuated that American support for Israel is fueled by money from donors and pressure from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group known as Aipac.

Far from silencing her, that first flare-up simply led to the next — her comments about allegiances to a foreign country. That flummoxed Jewish Democrats, who had said they would talk to Ms. Omar about her insinuations.

“The idea that certain members of Congress seemingly believe it is acceptable to use historic anti-Semitic tropes accusing Jews of dual loyalty, despite the broad condemnation of the entire House Democratic leadership, is beyond me,” said Representative Josh Gottheimer, Democrat of New Jersey. “This rhetoric is reminiscent of other hurtful episodes in our history, including when President John F. Kennedy’s loyalty was called into question simply because he was Irish Catholic.”

Ms. Omar’s refusal to stand down has presented Democratic leaders with the question of how far to go to punish her, and whether she should lose her seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, which Mr. Engel chairs.

So far, the leaders have shown little inclination to do so. But in an interview last month, Mr. Engel said he had a blunt talk with Ms. Omar before she took her seat on the panel.

“I talked to her about my views on Israel, and I said to her that we respect everyone’s views but this was something that I wasn’t going to allow to be swept under the rug,” he said then, adding, “it wasn’t a confrontational meeting. She was pleasant, but I made it very clear to her where I stood and what I expected.”

But it has also raised sharp questions from defenders, who say Republicans are not facing nearly the same kind of scrutiny. Mr. Nadler accused Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio, of anti-Semitism for using a dollar sign for the “S” in Tom Steyer’s name. Mr. Steyer, the billionaire liberal activist, has Jewish roots.

And it took years for Republican leaders to take action against Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, despite a long history of racist and bigoted comments. He was removed from his committee assignments this year after questioning when “white supremacy” had become a bigoted term.


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