Ilhan Omar Pleads Ignorance on Antisemitism in Bid to Remain on House Committee

Welcome back to Forgotten Fact Checks, a weekly column produced by National Review’s News Desk. This week, we recap Representative Ilhan Omar’s history of antisemitic comments, discuss an insensitive column on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and hit more media misses.

Ilhan Omar Spins an Unlikely Story

Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) this week tried out a new tactic as part of her campaign to remain on the House Foreign Affairs Committee despite her past antisemitic comments: pleading ignorance.

House speaker Kevin McCarthy has vowed to remove Omar from the committee over past antisemitic remarks and other controversial comments about Israel. Her ouster would require a vote of the full House.

On Sunday, Omar appeared on CNN to claim that she was previously wholly unaware of a number of antisemitic tropes. She said she had learned “a lot” from her Jewish colleagues in the wake of her various controversial comments.

“I certainly did not or was not aware that the word ‘hypnotized’ was a trope,” she claimed. “I wasn’t aware of the fact that there are tropes about Jews and money. That has been a very enlightening part of this journey. To insinuate that I knowingly said these things when people have read into my comments to make it sound as if I have something against the Jewish community is so wrong.”

She went on to defend herself by noting that she has voted for every single resolution to condemn antisemitism, adding that “no Republican can say that.” However, the reason the House voted on two resolutions to condemn antisemitism and other forms of bigotry in 2019 was because of backlash over Omar’s comments, despite the resolution’s not specifically naming Omar.

In 2012, Omar suggested that Israel has “hypnotized the world” and said, “may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” 

In 2019, she replied to a tweet about McCarthy targeting her and Representative Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) over their criticisms of Israel, by writing, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” She also appeared at a town hall event in Washington, D.C., at the time and suggested that Israel demands “allegiance” from American lawmakers.

In 2021, she compared the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban.

She said on Sunday, “I might have used words at the time that I didn’t understand were trafficking in antisemitism.”

Few believed Omar’s claims of ignorance, including international human rights lawyer Arsen Ostrovsky:

Omar attempted to turn the backlash around on Republicans, accusing her critics of being “OK with Islamophobia.” She claiming that the effort to remove her from the committee is “politically motivated” and perhaps even “motivated by the fact that many of these [Republican] members don’t believe a Muslim, a refugee, an African should even be in Congress, let alone have the opportunity to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee.” 

CNN anchor Dana Bash said Omar seemed to be “accusing Kevin McCarthy of racism.”

Omar replied:

I mean, I’m not making any accusations. I’m just laying out the facts. You remember Donald Trump coming into my state and saying Muslims, Somali refugees are infiltrating our country. You remember Marjorie Taylor Greene coming to Congress after Rashida [Tlaib] and I got sworn in and saying Muslims are infiltrating Congress. You remember [Lauren] Boebert saying that I was a terrorist. What did McCarthy do? He said, “She apologized, and we don’t have to worry about her Islamophobia. That never happened.”. . . And so these people are OK with Islamophobia. They’re OK with trafficking in their own ways in antisemitism. They are not OK with having a Muslim have a voice on that committee. 

Unsurprisingly, several Democrats have come to Omar’s defense, including Representative Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), who was kicked off the House Intelligence Committee for boosting the now-debunked Steele dossier.

Asked on CNN if Omar’s comments “rise to the level of antisemitism,” Schiff claimed the comments were “all a pretext” and instead turned the attention around to the “leader of the Republican party, Donald Trump” who is “dining with white nationalists and antisemites.”

It’s currently unclear whether McCarthy would have the votes in the House to keep Omar off the committee.

Representative Ken Buck (R., Colo.) said Friday he is opposed to McCarthy’s plan. I think that we should not engage in this tit for tat,” Buck told NBC. 

Representative Victoria Spartz (R., Ind.) said earlier this week, “Two wrongs do not make a right. As I spoke against it on the House floor two years ago, I will not support this charade again.”

Other Republicans have said they are undecided on whether to support the move, including Representatives Nancy Mace (R., S.C.) and David Valadao (R., Calif.), while Representative Brian Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.) has not publicly revealed how he plans to vote.

Headline Fail of the Week

The Louisville, Ky., Courier-Journal sparked a backlash this week when it published an opinion column titled “Holocaust Remembrance Day is a time to remember more than one atrocity.”

International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27 is not just a reminder of the six million Eastern European Jews who were rounded up and murdered between 1941 to 1945,” the piece reads. “As one Louisville rabbi recently said, January 27 is a teachable moment to remember all the hate speech and all the violence that is perpetuated against religions, races and genders, all those acts committed in the past and those that continue to this day.”

It adds: “Jews do not have a monopoly on persecution and atrocities.”

Media Misses

— The Associated Press recommended in a tweet that journalists avoid “general and often dehumanizing ‘the’ labels such as the poor, the mentally ill, the French, the disabled, the college-educated. Instead, use wording such as people with mental illnesses. And use these descriptions only when clearly relevant.” After receiving backlash over the inclusion of “the French” on the list, the AP deleted the tweet “because of an inappropriate reference to French people. We did not intend to offend.”

Washington Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler posed this “serious” question:

— The Washington Post reports that a restaurant owner in Connecticut faced a “conservative backlash” after naming her cafe “Woke Breakfast & Coffee Co.” without realizing the political meaning of the word “woke.” The “conservative backlash” was seemingly limited to a handful of Facebook comments questioning or “bashing” the name choice. The town Republican committee ultimately came out in support of the restaurant: “While the name at first may set off some conservatives’ alarm bells, it is clear that the owner never intended for it to be a political statement.”

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