2020 Candidates Are Wading Into the Ilhan Omar Controversy

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The House Democratic caucus might be mired in infighting right now over a proposed resolution to condemn anti-Semitism in the wake of freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent comments on Israel’s influence on American politics, but at least one 2020 candidate is unequivocally standing by her.

In a statement, Bernie Sanders—who, if elected president, would be the first Jewish president in American history—defended Omar, who, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, is one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress.


“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world,” Sanders said in the statement. “We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel. Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace.”

“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong,” Sanders added.


Sanders’ statement was first reported by HuffPost.

This isn’t the first time over the past few months that Sanders has backed Omar, although it’s by far his most public show of support. After Omar was criticized for a tweet last month about AIPAC, the Daily Beast reported that Sanders called her. Although Omar’s office said the call was off-the-record, Jewish Insider reported that on a conference call, Sanders said that he called Omar to “give her my personal support.”


“We will stand by our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Jewish Insider quoted Sanders as saying.

Following Sanders’ statement, his fellow senator and 2020 candidate Kamala Harris released her own statement to Splinter and other outlets. The statement was quite a bit more unclear but still expressed skepticism of the criticism of Omar:

We all have a responsibility to speak out against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, racism, and all forms of hatred and bigotry, especially as we see a spike in hate crimes in America. But like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk. We should be having a sound, respectful discussion about policy. You can both support Israel and be loyal to our country. I also believe there is a difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism. At the end of the day, we need a two-state solution and a commitment to peace, human rights, and democracy by all leaders in the region — and a commitment by our country to help achieve that.


We’ve reached out for comment to Omar’s other colleagues in Congress who are also running for president, including Sens. Cory Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Amy Klobuchar, and Elizabeth Warren, as well as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. We’ll update with any responses we receive.

Update, 3/7/2019, 11:45 AM ET: On Thursday night, Elizabeth Warren released her own statement.


On Friday morning, Gillibrand’s presidential campaign sent Splinter a statement as well, which compares Omar “employing anti-Semitic tropes” to the Islamophobic West Virginia GOP poster:

Speech that fuels hate and prejudice has no place in public discourse, whether it’s directed at Jews, Muslims, African Americans or other Americans. Those with critical views of Israel, such as Congresswoman Omar, should be able to express their views without employing anti-Semitic tropes about money or influence, just as those critical of Congresswoman Omar should not be using Islamophobic language and imagery that incites violence, such as what we saw in West Virginia.

We must also call out the hypocrisy of the Republican Party in this instance. Many Republicans have taken offense to Congresswoman Omar’s remarks and condemned her in the harshest terms, but said little or nothing when President Trump defended white supremacists at Charlottesville or when Leader McCarthy promoted a conspiracy about Jewish donors buying elections.

Both are unacceptable. As elected officials, we must be held to a higher standard and we must all do better.