Skip to main content

Ilhan Omar walks back criticism of Jewish Democrats after controversial interview

Addressing latest accusations of antisemitism, congresswoman links Black and Jewish fights for justice
Congresswoman Ilhan Omar received backlash for her comments on CNN's Jake Tapper on 30 June (AFP/File photo)

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar appeared to walk back her earlier criticism of her Jewish Democratic congressional colleagues for not having "been partners in justice", after being accused of antisemitism. 

"I am someone who has survived war and experienced injustice firsthand, who is alive today because I was welcomed into this country as a refugee," Omar said in a lengthy thread on Twitter.

"I know that many of my colleagues - both Jewish and non-Jewish - deeply share that commitment to fighting injustice."

Omar's thread addressed some of the backlash she received for comments made during an interview with CNN's Jake Tapper earlier on Wednesday. 

During the interview, Tapper asked Omar, who is a member of the Black-Jewish caucus, about a few of the times the progressive Muslim congresswoman had been labelled antisemitic. 

"In 2019, you said lawmakers support Israel because it's 'all about the Benjamins', which implies that politicians only support Israel because of money," Tapper said, failing to mention her follow-up explanation that pointed to Israel's thriving lobby in the United States. 

"There was a tweet from 2012 when you said Israel had hypnotised the world - do you understand why some of your fellow House Democrats, especially Jews, find that language antisemitic?" Tapper asked.

Omar replied she had "welcomed any time" her colleagues had asked to have a conversation in which they could learn from each other, but that it is "important for these [House] members to realise that they haven't been partners in justice". 

'It's pathetic that they are (once again) demonizing a young woman of color to score political points'

- Congressman David Cicilline

"They haven't been equally engaging in seeking justice around the world and I think I will continue to do that. It is important for me as someone who knows what it feels like to experience injustice in ways that many of my colleagues don't - to be a voice in finding accountability," she said. 

When pressed, Omar continued to defend her past statements saying that she has "clarified and apologised when I have felt that my words have offended", adding that the same demand for accountability is seldom made on such a scale when she has been attacked by Islamophobic rhetoric.

"When we are engaging in a space where we don't know how our language will be received, it is important for us to be open-minded and I think I have always been someone who is humbled, someone who understands how words can be harmful and hurtful to people and I have always listened and learned and behaved accordingly and showed up with compassion and care," Omar said during the interview. 

While Omar did not mention her Jewish colleagues specifically in her answer, critics of the left-leaning congresswoman immediately accused her of antisemitism. 

"Ilhan Omar is a rabid anti-Semite who has no problem smearing Jews, even in her own party," Representative Andy Biggs tweeted. "Shameful and un-American". 

"Why is Ilhan Omar still on the Foreign Affairs Committee?" Representative Tom Cotton tweeted. "Why is she on any committee?"

Others came to Omar's defence, such as Congressman David Cicilline, who slammed the "right wing" for "trying to create a controversy where there is none". 

"It’s pathetic that they are (once again) demonizing a young woman of color to score political points," Cicilline said. 

'We must stand in solidarity'

Omar said in her thread that the response to the backlash underscored how "the Black community and the Jewish community have historically stood side-by-side in the fight against injustice and throughout our history."

"In this moment, we must stand in solidarity because what unites us is so much greater than what [divides] us," she continued. 

"Most of my colleagues across Congress may not be refugees themselves, but fleeing war and persecution only to find a refuge in the United States of America - *is* the Jewish-American experience. This binds us," she said. 

"That is why it is so important for us to build solidarity in the here and now, to make clear that the threats we face can only be solved if we see racism, anti-Muslim hate, and xenophobia as inextricably linked to antisemitism." 

She also praised a select group of small letf-wing Jewish organisations - Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, Bend the Arc, and Minnesota’s Jewish Community Action - for "reminding us that the Jewish community has always been on the frontlines of social change, even amidst threats to their safety".

Rebukes US strikes in Iraq, Syria

Omar also caused waves during Wednesday's interview when she said she did not think Sunday's air strikes against Iran-backed groups in Iraq and Syria were "justified". 

"We are yet to clearly hear what [the Biden administration's] justifications are. We have asked for a classified briefing, we are told that the Foreign Affairs Committee will get one, [but] no date has been set for when that classified hearing will take place," she said in response to Tapper's question on whether she agreed with the military strikes.

'Islamophobic tropes': Ilhan Omar defiant amid renewed bipartisan attacks
Read More »

The US conducted what it called "defensive precision air strikes" against Iran-backed groups on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border on Sunday, hitting facilities used to launch drone strikes against US personnel and equipment in Iraq, Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby said at the time. 

"I think it is really important for us to realise that this cycle of violence and retribution does not make anyone safe," Omar continued on the subject. 

"We've heard from the Iraqi government in their rebuke and in their condemnation, they've talked about how we have violated their sovereignty.

"This is an administration that has said they want to lead the international world as an administration that believes in the rule of law and respects international law and we find ourselves where we are, being rebuked by a country that we say has invited us but has been asking us repeatedly to leave. 

"The question that should be asked is why are we still there? - is it okay for us to continue to engage in proxy war with Iran and Syria while our troops are in Iraq and is it time for this administration to come before Congress to ask for authorisation?" she said.  

"If you are in someone's backyard, can you say you are defending yourself?"