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US lawmaker defends 'offensive' Israel remark

BBC News logo BBC News 3 days ago
Ilhan Omar holding a sign © Getty Images

A US congresswoman has hit back after a rare rebuke from Democratic colleagues over her remarks seeming to liken the US and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban.

After a dozen Jewish lawmakers called on Ilhan Omar to "clarify her words", the Minnesota representative slammed the group's "tropes".

This is not the first time that Ms Omar's criticism of Israel put her at odds with members of her own party.

In 2019, she apologised for implying money was behind support for Israel.

The criticism began after Ms Omar tweeted on Monday that "we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban".

"We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity," she wrote, including a video of her questioning Secretary of State Tony Blinken during a committee hearing in the House of Representatives.

The row comes only weeks after hostilities in the Middle East ended in ceasefire amid rising reports of anti-Semitic attacks against American Jews.

But Ms Omar's mention of militant Islamist groups Hamas and the Taliban in the same breath as the US and Israel rankled her fellow lawmakers.

"Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided," wrote the group, led by New York Democrat Jerry Nadler, in a statement Wednesday.

"Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organisations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one's intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice.

"False equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups."

Later on Wednesday, Ms Omar - a Somali-born former refugee who is one of the first Muslims elected to Congress - hit back at the group calling them "shameful" and accusing them of engaging in "islamophobic tropes".

"It's shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for 'clarification' and not just call," she tweeted.

"The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment & silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable."

Her fellow member of the so-called "Squad" of left-wing Democratic female lawmakers, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, rushed to her defence.

"Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus," the New York Democrat tweeted.

"They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her."

a police car parked in a parking lot: Taliban militants, photographed in April 2021 © BBC Taliban militants, photographed in April 2021

Later on Wednesday, Ms Omar issued a statement saying that she was intending to question Mr Blinken about specific incidents presented to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

"To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel," she said.

"I was in no way equating terrorist organisations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems."

She also tweeted a profanity-laced voicemail message she received, writing, "every time I speak out on human rights I am inundated with death threats".

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