WASHINGTON (JTA) — Jewish Democrats in Congress engaged in a fraught exchange on Twitter with their colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., for her use of what many are calling another anti-Semitic trope.
The public sparring follows a report last week of comments made by the freshman lawmaker at a public event in which she appeared to refer to domestic support for Israel as “allegiance to a foreign country.”
Rep. Nita Lowey of New York, the chairwoman of the U.S. House of Representatives powerful Appropriations Committee, was among those accusing Omar of invoking the anti-Semitic slur that Jews who support Israel are divided in their loyalties.
“Anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty are equally painful and must also be roundly condemned,” Lowey tweeted Sunday. “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.”
In a bookstore event last week in Washington, Omar, who is Muslim and has tussled at least twice before with critics for using what they described as anti-Semitic tropes, said, “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.”
Gross islamophobic stereotypes – like those about @IlhanMN recently featured on posters in WVA – are offensive and have no place in political discourse. Anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty are equally painful and must also be roundly condemned.
— Nita Lowey (@NitaLowey) March 2, 2019
Eliot Engel of New York, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, where Omar has a seat; Jerry Nadler of New York, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Max Rose of New York, a freshman like Omar, all fired back in statements to Jewish Insider.
On Friday, Engel called on Omar to apologize for her “vile anti-Semitic slur.”
Responding to Lowey, Omar doubled down. “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.”
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 elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that! https://t.co/gglAS4FVJW
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 3, 2019
Lowey responded in kind. “No member of Congress is asked to swear allegiance to another country,” she said. “Throughout history, Jews have been accused of dual loyalty, leading to discrimination and violence, which is why these accusations are so hurtful.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a former Democratic Party chairwoman, also weighed in: “Dialogue leads to understanding. @IlhanMN, repeated misunderstandings would seem to require dialogue to avoid repetitive harm.”
Sadly, misunderstandings over anti-Semitic, hurtful comments continue, as does hateful Islamaphobic rhetoric. Dialogue leads to understanding. @IlhanMN, repeated misunderstandings would seem to require dialogue to avoid repetitive harm.
— Debbie Wasserman Schultz (@DWStweets) March 4, 2019
In previous incidents, for which Omar apologized, she suggested that Israel had “hypnotized” the world and that the pro-Israel lobbying had bought its influence on Capitol Hill. Her supporters say she is merely criticizing Israel and that her comments are being taken out of context in order to discredit her.
But even some liberal critics of Israel have said that Omar should be aware of the language that Jews and others regard as historically hateful and hurtful.
Tweeted Josh Marshall of the liberal Talking Points Memo: “Omar has lots of critics who want to silence anyone in mainstream politics who is critical of Israel. She also routinely expresses her views with words and phrases charged [with] deep anti-semitic histories. Hard to care at this point whether that’s from misunderstanding or animus.”