Historic resolution condemning antisemitism and Islamophobia masks unease in Democratic party

By Laura Kelly in Washington, DC

An historic resolution passed the House of Representatives on Thursday which, on its face, condemns hate and bigotry but did little to mask conflict among Democrats over one members’ failure to recognize antisemitic comments and the pain it caused.

Over a week after Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) said that Israel supporters “push for allegiance to a foreign country,” the House Majority released a seven-page resolution that explained, without naming Rep. Omar specifically, how charges of “dual-loyalty” play on historical antisemitic tropes.

“The words spoken by our colleague from Minnesota last week touched a very real, very raw place for me,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) said on the House floor Thursday night.

The congressman was one of a number of Jewish lawmakers who first met last weekend to discuss how to respond to Rep. Omar’s comments, the third time in less than two months she was publicly criticized for making antisemitic statements.

In his floor speech, Rep. Engel said his desire to go on record condemning antisemitism wasn’t driven by the need to single out Rep. Omar or shutdown debate about the U.S.-Israel relationship, but to record that “certain words” are dangerous. “When a member of our party speaks the way the representative from Minnesota spoke, we need to single it out and say we will not tolerate it… No member of Congress should be saying hurtful things and then not apologizing for them,” he said.

The journey of the crafting of the resolution to finally reach the floor Thursday evening came after a week of infighting among Democrats, with one side seeking to reprimand the freshman congresswoman to impart the seriousness of her allegations and another pointing out the death threats and anti-Muslim bigotry Rep. Omar receives on a daily basis.

As one of the first two Muslim women in Congress and the only one wearing a hijab, lawmakers say that Rep. Omar is uniquely singled out for Islamophobic slurs and violent threats.

“I think antisemitism is dangerous but I think we’ve seen a rise in hate crimes in this country over the last several years,” Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) told Jewish Insider before the floor vote, “and I think it’s important that everyone’s included in the fabric of America and what it stands for.”

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) on Wednesday appeared to minimize the trauma of Holocaust survivors in his defense of Rep. Omar and her experience surviving war in Somalia.

“I’m serious about that. There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her,” Clyburn told The Hill. “I’ve talked to her, and I can tell you she is living through a lot of pain.” He later issued a statement saying the Holocaust is a “unique atrocity” and “should never be minimized.”

The final draft of the resolution kept in much of the original language from a version that circulated Monday, including harmful stereotypes of Jews – that they control the government, are obsessed with money and how charges of dual loyalty lead to violence throughout history.

Yet it added new language defining anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry, and also included condemnation of white supremacists and their targeting of all minority groups, including “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, [and] immigrants.”

On the floor and before the vote, Jewish Democratic lawmakers expressed disappointment that the antisemitic rhetoric of one member wasn’t elevated as a separate and unique issue of hate and violence.

“We are having this debate because of the language of one of our colleagues,” Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) said in a floor speech earlier in the day.

“Language that suggests that Jews like me… that we are not loyal Americans. Why are we unable to singularly condemn antisemitism?”

Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), also gave an impassioned speech about how charges of dual loyalty are a personal offense. “I’m a Jewish American woman who served for 20 years in uniform and continue to serve in the United States Congress… Am I to look back on my military career and the sacrifices it meant for my family and remain silent in the face of people questioning my loyalty to our country?” she said. “The recent accusations of dual loyalty call into question the equal footing of Jewish members in elected office and by extension all Jews living in America. I’m proud to vote on this resolution in condemnation of this rhetoric.”

The vote passed 407 to 23 in the House, with Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY), one of two Jewish Republican members of Congress, marking his dissent. “If a Republican Member was pushing the antisemitism that Rep. Omar keeps peddling, this resolution would name names, and be solely, emphatically focused on anti-Semitism and that member would be removed from their committee assignments,” Rep. Zeldin said on the floor. “The double standard motivating this decision by the Speaker and the moral equivalency filling this watered down text is spineless and disgusting.”

Rep. Susan Wild (D-PA) said the whole incident puts a spotlight on how debate in the House should be conducted among members and the weight of their words. “I think the issue of antisemitism won’t be put to bed any time soon. I really hope we take this incident and use it internally here in the house as an opportunity for more dialogue and education and teaching about why certain things are just so traumatic for the Jewish people,” she said.

Earlier in the day, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) reiterated her statements that she doesn’t believe Rep. Omar intended to be antisemitic with her choice of words, and that “she may need to explain” her comments.  

Following the vote, Rep. Omar joined a statement with the only other two Muslim members of Congress, Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Andre Carson (D-IN), and celebrated the historic measure of condemning anti-Muslim bigotry. They included that the resolution also condemns antisemitism, racism and white supremacy. “Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress,” the three members wrote.

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