Sat, Mar 09, 2019 - Page 7 News List

Anti-Semitism debate exposes Democrat rifts

AFP, WASHINGTON

A Muslim US congresswoman’s remarks deemed anti-Semitic by colleagues has exposed deep fault lines among Democrats, with the party seeking to contain the damage with the passage on Thursday of a measure condemning bigotry and hate.

After days of soul-searching and febrile recrimination, the Democratic leadership appeared desperate to move past a controversy that has left the party split two months since reclaiming the majority in the US House of Representatives.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a resolution that she called the “strongest possible opposition” to anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and white supremacist bigotry.

The decision followed acrimonious debate over how to reprimand US Representative Ilhan Omar, who sparked a firestorm over repeated criticisms of Israel and a powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington that exerts influence in US politics.

The resolution passed 407-23, with all Democrats voting in favor, including Omar herself.

The former Somali refugee has been assailed for suggesting that supporters of Israel are urging lawmakers to have “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Lawmakers expressed outrage, warning that Omar was peddling in age-old anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish people having dual loyalties.

Several weeks ago, she drew ire for suggesting that Jewish political power comes through the Jewish community’s money and that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group pays US politicians to support Israel.

A vote had been expected on a resolution specifically condemning anti-Semitism, but on Wednesday, some Democrats pushed to include language decrying Islamophobia and other bigotry.

It condemns anti-Semitism, as well as discrimination against Muslims and other minorities as “hateful expressions of intolerance” contradictory to US values.

The resolution does not mention Omar by name and some Republicans complained that the measure’s original intent was “watered down.”

“Today’s resolution vote was a sham put forward by Democrats to avoid condemning one of their own and denouncing vile anti-Semitism,” US Representative Liz Cheney said.

Omar joined the two other Muslims in the US Congress, Rashida Tlaib and Andre Carson, in praising the measure’s passage.

“It’s the first time we have voted on a resolution condemning Anti-Muslim bigotry in our nation’s history,” they said, adding that they saw a worrying rise of extremism in the US.

“Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress,” they said.

Some Democrats, including three presidential contenders for next year — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris — expressed frustration that Omar faced an implicit rebuke, while racist statements by Trump and other Republicans have gone largely unchallenged.

“We must not ... equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing [Israeli Primes Minister Benyamin] Netanyahu government in Israel,” said Sanders, who is Jewish.

Pelosi declined to condemn Omar outright.

“I feel confident that her words were not based on any anti-Semitic attitude, but that she didn’t have a full appreciation of how they landed on other people,” she said.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former congressman and White House chief of staff, nevertheless slammed Omar and described her dual loyalty charge as anti-Semitic, not anti-Israel.

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