Ilhan Omar Supporters Slam Democratic Leadership: ‘It is No Longer Political Suicide to Criticize Israel’

Patrick Goodenough | March 7, 2019 | 4:14am EST
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Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) participates in a bill markup on March 6, 2019. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

( – Rallying in support of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), under fire for comments about Israel and Jews, Muslim, left-wing Jewish and other figures said Wednesday the U.S. was undergoing a time of transition, with criticism of Israel no longer “taboo” or “political suicide” for members of Congress.

At a press event on Capitol Hill, they took the House Democratic leadership to task for plans to put forward a resolution condemning anti-Semitism – arising from Omar’s controversial remarks but not mentioning her by name – and demanded that the measure be broadened to cover bigotry of other kinds.

Palestinian-American activist and Women’s March co-leader Linda Sarsour said the Democratic leadership should expand the language of the resolution beyond anti-Semitism, to include “Islamophobia, anti-black racism and xenophobia.”

Party leaders on Wednesday delayed bringing the draft resolution to the floor, seeking to broaden the text, drawing sharp criticism from Republican leaders.

The Democrats had said they were going to “stand up to” Omar’s remarks, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters. “But now they had to pull it back. Do they not even have their own votes to pass?”

President Trump also weighed in. “It is shameful that House Democrats won’t take a stronger stand against Anti-Semitism in their conference,” he tweeted. “Anti-Semitism has fueled atrocities throughout history and it’s inconceivable they will not act to condemn it!”

Sarsour said activists would not be silenced or intimidated, but “will continue to ensure that this Constitution upholds our right to engage in freedom of speech and that includes the criticism of the State of Israel as it commits atrocities against the Palestinian people.”

“And we ask the Democratic leadership to engage in an act of leadership, by keeping us united as we go ahead into 2020,” she said.

“The right is literally playing a game to divide us and fracture our movement, so that we lose this White House one more time to fascists and the Donald Trump administration,” Sarsour charged.

Linda Sarsour and other supporters of Rep. Ilhan Omar take part in a group photo outside her office on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. (Screen capture: CAIR/Facebook)

Institute for Policy Studies fellow Phyllis Bennis said America was undergoing a generational and political shift that should be celebrated – a moment of transition towards a situation where criticism of Israel is no longer off-limits.

“It is no longer political suicide to criticize Israel,” Bennis told the gathering. “We now see it on college campuses, we see it in the streets, we see it in how people talk about the issue. We see it in the media.”

It is partly that “change,” she added, that has brought to Congress “extraordinary people” like Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)

Among Omar’s comments that have been criticized was the implicit accusation that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee pays U.S. politicians to be pro-Israel. (AIPAC does not endorse or fund candidates for office, and does not have a PAC.)

At Wednesday’s press event, United Voices for America founder Ahmed Bedier also took aim at AIPAC, saying it does not represent the American Jewish community.

“They are the voice of [Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu, the voice of Likud, the voice of the right-wing,” he said.

Bedier suggested further that Democratic leaders’ reaction to Omar’s comments amounted to support not just for AIPAC but for Israel’s conservative governing coalition.

“If Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership wants to align themselves with extreme right-wing parties around the world, well, I don’t think that was their mandate when they came to Washington D.C.”

Osama Abuirshaid, national policy director of American Muslims for Palestine, said neither Congress nor the Democratic leadership has the “right to infringe on our rights. Israel is not a taboo.”

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) executive director Nihad Awad said the U.S. Congress needs new faces and voices, and described Omar as “a dynamic, pioneer[ing], courageous voice that has been much needed in the Congress. We need to support her.”

After the event, the group hand delivered a letter of support for Omar to Pelosi’s office.

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