ADL Rejects Omar's 'Good Faith' Defense, Asks Pelosi to Condemn Anti-Semitic Rhetoric

Ilhan Omar
Ilhan Omar / Getty Images
March 4, 2019

The Anti-Defamation League released a statement Monday calling on Congress to condemn Rep. Ilhan Omar's (D., Minn.) recent anti-Semitic comments.

The group, which previously defended Omar and expressed hope she would learn, sent a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) to request Congress take action.


ADL President Jonathan Greenblatt rejected the idea Omar was acting in "good faith" when she made her most recent anti-Semitic allegations. He described her "slur" as the reincarnation of "a vile anti-Semitic slur that has been used to harass, marginalize, and persecute the Jewish people for centuries." In response to Omar's actions, Greenblatt noted Pelosi and her fellow Democratic leaders previously promised "the entire Congress must be fully engaged in denouncing and rejecting all forms of hatred, racism, prejudice and discrimination wherever they are encountered."

That is why that, in light of these additional anti-Semitic statements by Rep. Omar, we ask that you give the entire Congress an opportunity, through a House resolution, to voice its rejection of her latest slur and make clear that no matter what may divide the 435 members of the House of Representatives, they are united in condemning anti-Semitism.

We urge you and your colleagues to send the unambiguous message that the United States Congress is no place for hate. The entire Congress should commit itself to living up to the pledge that George Washington made to the Jewish community of Newport, RI when he wrote that our country will be one "which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

The letter was written in response to two recent incidents—one at an event in Washington, D.C. and another on Twitter—for which Omar came under fire for anti-Semitic comments.

During an event in Washington, D.C. last Wednesday, Omar gladly took on past accusations of anti-Semitism, and in the process, made fresh anti-Semitic comments. "I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country," she said. The comment provoked condemnation from members of both parties.

Over the weekend, Rep. Nita Lowey (D., N.Y.) tweeted her support for Omar after she was depicted in a bigoted poster in West Virginia. In a second tweet, however, Lowey expressed concern "Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel," and she called for Omar to "engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful."

In response, Omar invoked another anti-Semitic stereotype. She told Lowey she should not be "expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country" in order to serve in Congress or on a committee.

House Democratic leaders will put a resolution on the floor Wednesday in response to Omar's controversial remarks, Politico reported.

The ADL statement marks a shift in tone for the civil rights organization. Greenblatt is a former Obama White House staffer, and has been more reserved in his past critiques.

A few days earlier, the ADL held a softer line. Ken Jacobson, ADL deputy national director, agreed Omar's behavior was "extremely disturbing," but he continued to express hope the congresswoman was simply misinformed. "We want to educate any member of Congress or someone else who has views we find problematic. We still hold that perspective," he said. "We’re not giving up on it."

The congresswoman's latest comments continue a pattern of controversial rhetoric.

In February, Omar suggested Republicans were being paid by AIPAC to support Israel, claiming it was "all about the Benjamins baby."

In response, the ADL asked for her to "understand that these comments promote dangerous stereotypes and are hurtful to her Jewish constituents and Jewish-Americans throughout the country.

When Omar eventually offered a qualified apology, the ADL updated its statement to support Omar. "It was appropriate for Rep. Omar to step forward to acknowledge her mistake and apologize for it," the note read. "Education is the first step to fighting hate for good."

Omar now denies that February comment was anti-Semitic, or that she apologized for the comment itself.

In a separate incident, after Omar apologized in January for "unknowingly" using an anti-Semitic trope, Greenblatt praised her for finally addressing a tweet that had been up for almost seven years.

"[H]ats off to Rep Omar for her honest apology & commitment to a more just world," Greenblatt tweeted.

"Open & respectful conversations will help us achieve this goal," he added.

In November 2018, after Omar publicly switched her stance to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the ADL said Omar's position on the policy it condemns was "alarming."  "[Y]ou owe it to your new constituents to clarify your views," the ADL said in a tweet to Omar. She made clear she supports BDS, and the ADL had no further comment at the time.

Omar, who is Somali-American and Muslim, has charged those accusing her of anti-Semitism of being Islamophobic. Defending in July 2018 the same 2012 tweet for which she eventually apologized, Omar accused Jews offended by her comments of harboring anti-Islamic sentiment. "These accusations are without merit," she said. "They are rooted in bigotry toward a belief about what Muslims are stereotyped to believe."

Update 5:02 p.m.: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified Rep. Omar's background. She is a refugee from Somalia.