By LISA MASCARO and LAURIE KELLMAN Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats briefly delayed votes on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other bigotry Thursday as they added language sought by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus to include mention of Latinos, too.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s office said the changes were quickly made — inserting the reference to Latinos — and voting on the resolution was back on track for late Thursday, a spokeswoman said.
The late revision came after a week of robust and often divisive debate among Democrats over how to respond to newly elected Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments critical of Israel.
The resolution also condemns anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim discrimination and bigotry against minorities “as hateful expressions of intolerance” as Democrats try to move past an issue that has overtaken their congressional agenda.
The addition of Latinos came under a section that stated, “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.”
Freshman Rep. Omar’s comments about Israel sparked turmoil within her party.
The seven-page House resolution 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.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she does not believe the Minnesota Democrat understood the “weight of her words” or that they would be perceived by some as anti-Semitic. The resolution does not mention Omar by name.
“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.
The resolution cites the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, but does not specifically condemn white supremacy.
The legislation is in part intended to resolve a divide that opened after Omar said that Israel’s supporters were pushing lawmakers to take a pledge of “allegiance” to a foreign country. A Muslim-American, she has been critical of the Jewish state in the past and apologized for those previous comments.
But Omar has not apologized for what many in Congress saw as her recent suggestion that Israel’s supporters in the U.S. have split loyalties. And that sparked a divide among Democrats that could stretch into the 2020 election season.
The longstanding U.S. relationship with Israel is coming under increased scrutiny form liberals critical of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative leadership in regard to the Palestinians and other issues.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent, said, “Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.”
Sanders said, “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.”
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.” She said threats of violence, including those made against Omar, “are never acceptable.”
Some of the House’s leading Jewish Democrats wanted to bring a resolution on the floor simply condemning anti-Semitism.
But other House Democrats wanted to broaden the resolution to include a rejection of all forms of racism and bigotry. Others questioned whether a resolution was necessary at all and viewed it as unfairly singling out Omar at a time when President Donald Trump and others have made disparaging racial comments.
There remained frustration that the party that touts its diversity conducted such a messy and public debate about how to declare its opposition to bigotry.
“This shouldn’t be so hard,” Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said on the House floor.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders were trying to fend off a challenge from Republicans on the issue.
They worry they could run into trouble on another bill, their signature ethics and voting reform package, if Republicans try to tack their own anti-Semitism bill on as an amendment. By voting Thursday, the House Democratic vote counters believed they could inoculate their lawmakers against such a move.
Associated Press writers Padmananda Rama, Elana Schor and Juana Summers contributed to this report.
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