Rep. Ilhan Omar in Twitter Spat With Senior Jewish Democrat Over ‘Dual Loyalty’ Insinuation

Patrick Goodenough | March 3, 2019 | 7:02pm EST
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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., on Capitol Hill on February 12, 2019. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

( – In yet another spat over Muslim lawmakers and anti-Semitism, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wrangled on Twitter at the weekend with a senior Democratic colleague over remarks insinuating that pro-Israel lawmakers, especially Jewish ones, have dual loyalties to Israel and the United States.

After House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) – who is both Jewish and strongly pro-Israel – said she was “saddened” by Omar’s latest controversial remarks and urged her to retract them, Omar slapped her down: “Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman!”

Lowey, 81, has been in Congress for three decades and is the 14th member of the House by seniority; Omar, 37, has been in Congress for two months.

The latest incident began when a video clip emerged of Omar, speaking at a “progressive issues” town hall in Washington on Wednesday, saying that the reason she and fellow Muslim freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) were accused of anti-Semitism every time they speak about Israel is because they are Muslims.

“What I’m fearful of is that, because Rashida and I are Muslim, that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim.”

Omar, who was flanked by Tlaib as she spoke, said the accusation of anti-Semitism was “designed to end the debate” about “what is happening with Palestine.”

Then she added as the enthusiastic applause abated, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country."

Why was it okay, she asked, for her to talk about the influence of lobbies like the NRA or fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, “and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy?”

Omar did not say so, but was likely alluding to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which she implicitly accused in a tweet last month of paying U.S. politicians to be pro-Israel.

That tweet attracted strong criticism – including from some Democrats, among them Lowey, who in a statement at the time said, “There is no defense for invoking anti-Semitic tropes. This kind of language is hurtful, damaging, and unacceptable.”

U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., the first woman to chair the House Appropriations Committee, has been in the U.S. House since 1989. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

After the recent remarks on video appeared, Lowey on Saturday responded on Twitter, although this time she addressed both Omar’s words, and a row in the West Virginia legislature over a poster that linked Omar’s religion to the 9/11 terror attacks.

“Gross islamophobic stereotypes – like those about [Omar] recently featured on posters in WVA – are offensive and have no place in political discourse,” Lowey tweeted.

Then she continued, “Anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty are equally painful and must also be roundly condemned. Lawmakers must be able to debate w/o prejudice or bigotry. I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel. I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.”

Omar’s response was unapologetic: “Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! 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. The people of the 5th [congressional district in Minnesota] elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that!”

Omar continued with several further tweets:

“I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. 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.”

“My Americanness is questioned by the President and the GOP on a daily basis, yet my colleagues remain silent. I know what it means to be American and no one will ever tell me otherwise.”

Lowey then came back: “No member of Congress is asked to swear allegiance to another country. Throughout history, Jews have been accused of dual loyalty, leading to discrimination and violence, which is why these accusations are so hurtful.”

Omar, a Somali-American, and Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, are both supporters of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

Tlaib was criticized in January for remarks seen as insinuating “dual loyalty” among members of Congress who supported anti-BDS legislation in the Senate.

“They forgot what country they represent,” she tweeted at the time.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), whose legislation Tlaib was responding to, said in response, “This ‘dual loyalty’ canard is a typical anti-Semitic line,” adding that the BDS movement “isn’t about freedom & equality, it’s about destroying Israel.”

Tlaib also drew flak from the Jewish Democratic Council of America, a liberal Jewish Democrats’ group, which said, “Whether one supports a particular bill or not, it's offensive to insinuate that senators would be driven by anything other than the best interests of the U.S.”

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