Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, along with several top Democrats, released statements defending Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Wednesday, as the freshman congresswoman faced mounting criticism—including death threats—following her most recent comments on Israel.
“I always have and always will stand in opposition to any and all forms of hatred and discrimination, including white supremacy, racism, transphobia, ableism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, islamophobia and xenophobia– there is no hierarchy of hurt,” Pressley said in a statement released Wednesday evening. “This week, Congresswoman Omar and her loved ones have had their humanity threatened, both by the general public and by government officials.”
“This is unconscionable,” the Massachusetts rep added. “We should have equity in our outrage.”
Omar, who has been critical of the pro-Israel lobby and its influence on American politics, drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans this past week after she denounced the “political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” In her remarks, made at a Washington bookstore last week, Omar also argued that people writing her off as an anti-Semite were trying to silence legitimate criticisms of Israel’s influence on Washington lawmakers, reports CNN.
Omar compared Israel’s lobby to that of “the NRA, or fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma.”
As NBC News reports, the comments unleashed a renewed wave of criticism against Omar, who—like several other prominent Democrats—has spoken out about the undue influence of corporate and lobbyist money on American politics before. Earlier this week, House Democrats announced a resolution condemning anti-Semitism in the wake of Omar’s remarks, a not-so-subtle rebuke against the congresswoman, even though she was never named in the measure.
By midweek, several top Democrats rallied behind Omar, citing death threats received by the Minnesota representative, as well as drawing a line between anti-Semitism and good-faith criticism of America-Israel policy.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I.-Vt.), who has voiced sharp criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the past, was among the first to come to Omar’s defense on Wednesday.
“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate,” the presidential hopeful said in a statement. “That’s wrong.”
Kamala Harris (D.-C.A.), also threw support behind Omar Wednesday night.
“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,” the California senator’s statement read.
“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,” Harris added. “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.”
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren drew a similar line separating policy debate from anti-Semitism in her statement.
“We have a moral duty to combat hateful ideologies in our own country and around the world—and that includes both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia,” Warren said in her statement.
“In a democracy, we can and should have an open, respectful debate about the Middle East that focuses on policy. Branding criticism of Israel as automatically anti-Semitic has a chilling effect on our public discourse and makes it harder to achieve a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians. Threats of violence—like those made against Rep. Omar—are never acceptable.”
As Democrats splintered over their support of Omar this week, the House resolution to condemn anti-Semitism expanded to include all forms of hate speech and discrimination, including Islamophobia.
NBC reports House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose staff was originally charged with writing up the measure, told reporters Wednesday she had “no idea” whether the House would make a move on the resolution by the end of the week.