WASHINGTON ― Republicans have been inaccurately deflecting criticism of Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert’s anti-Muslim attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) by claiming Omar never faced consequences for her own controversial comments.
“On the Democrat side they want to only go after Republicans,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Wednesday. “They don’t even ask their own members to apologize for things that were said, let alone go after their members. They want it to be a one-sided thing.”
Scalise’s comment echoed House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) on Friday.
“Did anyone on your side of the aisle talk about when Omar said, ‘The only reason I support Israel is about the Benjamins’? I never got a public apology or phone call,” he said.
These claims are not true.
In February 2019, in response to a story about McCarthy vowing to “take action” against Omar for her anti-Israel views, the Minnesota Democrat tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” using a rap lyric to imply that campaign contributions control lawmakers’ support for the Jewish state.
The tweet caused an immediate uproar, with Democratic leaders condemning Omar in a statement.
“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement with her leadership team. “But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.”
Within hours,Omar issued a statement of her own.
“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,” she said. “We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. That is why I unequivocally apologize.”
In other words, Democrats and Omar did in 2019 what Scalise and McCarthy said they didn’t do: They condemned a member of their own party and she quickly apologized, albeit not to McCarthy directly.
Now, that wasn’t the end of the story. A few weeks later, Omar sparked criticism anew for remarks she made to a left-leaning audience at a Washington restaurant and event space.
“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is ok for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” she said, referring to the pro-Israel lobby’s tactics. “And I want to ask, why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the NRA, of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?”
Members of Congress, led by several Jewish Democrats, immediately lambasted Omar, accusing her of perpetuating antisemitic tropes about Jewish Americans’ support for Israel connoting “dual loyalty.”
“The dual loyalty canard is one of the more common and most pernicious attacks used to discredit ‘the other,’” Democratic Reps. Brad Schneider (Ill.), Elaine Luria (Va.), and Josh Gottheimer (N.J.) wrote in a joint CNN op-ed condemning Omar. “It was deployed in the last century against Catholics like Al Smith and John Kennedy. It’s used today to vilify immigrants, minorities, and people of non-Christian faiths, including both Jews and Muslims.”
In this case, Omar stood by her remarks, insisting that she was merely taking issue with the way that her criticism of Israeli government policies is construed as “anti-American” by right-leaning pro-Israel advocates.
“I am told everyday that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel,” she 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.”
Pelosi, who is less critical of the U.S.-Israel relationship than Omar, nonetheless began preparing a House resolution to condemn anti-Semitism.
As House Democratic leaders drafted the language of the resolution though, they faced a rebellion on their left from congressional progressives and Democratic presidential contenders who felt that Omar was being unfairly singled out and her words taken out of context. Omar also received a death threat in the wake of her comments, leading her allies to argue that the offense she provoked paled in comparison to the Islamophobia she faced.
In the end, the House, which had initially planned to adopt a narrower resolution condemning antisemitism and charges of “dual loyalty,” expanded the scope of the resolution to encompass all forms of hate and prejudice.
By a massive margin, the House voted to both reject “the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the United States and around the world, including the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance” and recognize “the harm suffered by Muslims and others from the harassment, discrimination, and violence that result from anti-Muslim bigotry.”
Only 23 members of Congress voted against the resolution — all of them Republicans frustrated by the widening of the resolution’s focus beyond the issue of anti-Semitism.
Regardless of the wording though, the resolution itself was evidence of House Democratic leaders’ desire to register their objections to Omar’s comments.
Boebert’s comments, which are less ambiguous in their prejudice than Omar’s remarks, have not prompted a comparable response from Republican leaders.
McCarthy and Scalise have notably not condemned Boebert for referring to her Muslim colleagues as the “Jihad Squad” and repeatedly joking in recent weeks that Omar is a suicide bomber.
Boebert did tweet an apology to the Muslim community: “I apologize to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar.”
She also called Omar directly, which Scalise praised on Wednesday.
“She picked up the phone and called congresswoman Omar,” Scalise said. “She said, ‘I want to personally apologize to you.’ And that’s what she did.”
According to both Boebert and Omar, however, Boebert actually did not personally apologize, but instead said she didn’t want to offend someone’s religion, and then demanded that Omar “make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, anti-Semitic, anti-police rhetoric.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who is in the “Squad” of progressive lawmakers with Omar, backed Omar up on Wednesday. “I think the person that would know most if she was apologized to is Representative Omar,” she told HuffPost.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), another “Squad” member, introduced a resolution to remove Boebert from her committee seats, a punishment Democrats have also meted out to Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), for tweeting a cartoon of himself killing a colleague, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.), for past statements alleging school shootings and the 9/11 attacks were conspiracies.
Democratic leaders have hesitated to advance a resolution similarly punishing Boebert, but said they’re thinking about it.
“When I’m ready to announce that, I’ll let you know,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday.