House vote condemns anti-Semitism
Written by: Lisa Mascaro and Laurie Kellman
Published by: Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
WASHINGTON — The House passed a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other bigotry Thursday, with Democrats trying to push past a dispute that has overwhelmed their agenda and exposed fault lines that threaten to dog them through elections next year.
The one-sided 407-23 vote belied the emotional infighting over how to respond to freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent comments suggesting House supporters of Israel have dual allegiances. For days, Democrats wrestled with whether or how to punish the lawmaker, arguing over whether Omar, one of two Muslim women in Congress, should be singled out, what other types of bias should be decried and whether the party would tolerate dissenting views on Israel.
Republicans generally joined in the favorable vote, though nearly two-dozen opposed the measure.
Rep. Rick Crawford was the only House member from Arkansas to vote against the resolution. He believed the resolution should have named Omar and condemned her remarks, said his spokesman, Sara Robertson.
A resolution condemning white supremacy, which Crawford supported earlier this year, had singled out Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, after King made an inflammatory statement, she noted.
Generational as well as ideological, the Democrats’ dispute was fueled in part by young, liberal lawmakers — and voters — who have become a face of the newly empowered Democratic majority in the House. This group is critical of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, rejecting the conservative leader’s approach to Palestinians and other issues.
The group split sharply from Democratic leaders who seemed caught off guard by the support for Omar and unprepared for the debate.
The resolution passed Thursday condemns anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minority groups “as hateful expressions of intolerance.”
The seven-page document details a history of recent attacks not only against Jews in the United States but also Muslims, as it condemns all such discrimination as contradictory to “the values and aspirations” of the people of the United States. The vote was delayed for a time on Thursday to include mention of Hispanics to address concerns of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
The addition came under a section that stated in the end, “Whereas white supremacists in the United States have exploited and continue to exploit bigotry and weaponize hate for political gain, targeting traditionally persecuted peoples, including African-Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others with verbal attacks, incitement, and violence.”
An earlier version focused more narrowly on anti-Semitism.
Speaking before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she does not believe that Omar understood the “weight of her words” or that they would be perceived by some as anti-Semitic.
“It’s not about her. It’s about these forms of hatred,” Pelosi said. Asked whether the resolution was intended to “police” lawmakers’ words, Pelosi replied: “We are not policing the speech of our members. We are condemning anti-Semitism,” Islamophobia and white supremacy.
“What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong,” said presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent.
“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world,” the senator said. “We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.”
Other Democratic presidential contenders tried to walk a similar line.
California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris said “we need to speak out against hate.” But she said she also believes “there is a critical difference between criticism of policy or political leaders, and anti-Semitism.”
A statement from Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said, “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.”
Thursday’s measure, a stand-alone resolution, was in part intended to resolve the divide that opened after Omar said that Israel’s supporters were pushing lawmakers to take a pledge of “allegiance” to a foreign country. She has been critical of the Jewish state in the past and apologized for those previous comments.
Information for this article was contributed by Padmananda Rama, Elana Schor and Juana Summers of The Associated Press; and by Frank E. Lockwood of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.