House Democrats to call for vote on condemning 'anti-Semitic' Ilhan Omar comments

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., listens during a news conference on prescription drugs Jan. 10, 2019 at the Capitol in Washington.

WASHINGTON – House Democratic leaders plan to call for a vote on a resolution in response to remarks that freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar made about Israel at a town hall event, a senior Democratic aide told USA TODAY.

Staffers from the offices of top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., worked on the resolution condemning Omar's remarks over the weekend but the text is still not final, the aide said. Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Tuesday evening that the resolution will be updated to include anti-Muslim bias, according to a Democratic aide. The vote, originally anticipated for Wednesday, may be pushed back with Hoyer saying Wednesday it “hasn’t been decided" if there will be a vote this week.

Omar, D-Minn., suggested that the pro-Israel lobby pushes lawmakers to show "allegiance to a foreign country" and said the charge of anti-Semitism is "designed to end the debate" about Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

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The remark drew an angry response from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., who demanded Omar apologize for what he considered a "vile, anti-Semitic slur" in a statement on Friday. Omar is a member of Engel's committee.

Critics said Omar's remarks played into old tropes casting doubt on the loyalty of American Jews.

Omar – who apologized for a different comment that was condemned as anti-Semitic last month – pushed back against the criticism in a series of tweets on Sunday. She gave no indication that she intended to apologize in response to the new accusation of anti-Semitism. 

"I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel," Omar tweeted. "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." 

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The tweet was part of an exchange with Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., who said lawmakers should be able to debate without "prejudice or bigotry." 

"Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman!" Omar replied. "I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress." 

Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., are the first Muslim women elected to Congress. During her remarks at last week's town hall, Omar said she was concerned that her Jewish colleagues interpret "everything we say about Israel" as "anti-Semitic because we are Muslim." 

Last month, Omar sparked outrage when she tweeted that American lawmakers' lack of criticism for Israeli policies was "all about the Benjamins" and the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – a leading pro-Israel lobbying group. The remarks drew criticism from both Democrats and Republicans, and Pelosi called for Omar to apologize. 

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Omar did apologize for – and has since deleted – the tweets. She also deleted a 2012 tweet that had been criticized for claiming Israel had "hypnotized the world" into ignoring its treatment of Palestinians. 

"Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole," she said in a statement on Feb. 11.

"That is why I unequivocally apologize," she said, although she added that she was not apologizing for "the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil fuel industry."

Contributing: Eliza Collins