Transcript for Did Rep. Omar’s remarks on Israel cross the line to anti-Semitism?
Last fall, ilhan OMAR became one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to congress. One of the new faces of the democratic house majority, but with that spotlight has come intense scrutiny as comments by OMAR about Israel in recent weeks have been perceived as anti-semitic. Sparking a debate dividing the democratic party over what constitutes anti-semitism and what is legitimate political speech. Congresswoman, speaker Pelosi says it’s up to you if you want to explain your comments at all. It started with a February tweet in response to a story about the house Republican leader threatening action over OMAR’s criticism of Israel. It’s all about the benjamins, baby, she declared. She soon apologized for using age-old stereotypes of Jews using money to buy influence. But then more controversy after OMAR questioned the loyalties of American Jews who support pro-Israel lobbying groups. Talking about political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance of foreign country. Her fellow Democrats reacting harshly, including Lorraine Luria who is jewish and a veteran. Against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Is that not enough to prove my loyalty to my nation? Democratic Minnesota state senator Ron Latz told NPR he talked to OMAR about how she should discuss Israel even before she was elected. Unfortunately, she keeps repeating the mistakes and so I’m troubled by what appears to be a pattern reflecting an attitude at least toward Israel, if not, toward Jews. But OMAR’s defenders say she is facing unfair scrutiny. I just want to make sure that we are protecting also the right for the first Muslim woman to be in congress and to question legitimately foreign policy towards Israel. OMAR herself has been the target of intolerance. Just last week, this poster in the West Virginia capital at a GOP day connected OMAR to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The motion to reconsider is laid on the table. The debate over OMAR’s words sparking a house resolution this week, but broadened to condemn not just anti-semitism, but also islamaphobia and white supremacy. That resolution passed the house unanimously among Democrats with just 23 no votes from Republicans who said OMAR should have been directly named in the resolution. Let’s bring in the round table to discuss all of this now. Alex Castellanos, an ABC news contributor and Republican strategist, democratic strategist, Stephanie brown-james. Julie pace, Washington bureau chief for “The associated press,” and cokie Roberts. Good morning to you all, and Stephanie, I want to start with you. You heard congresswoman OMAR’s comments. You were part of a group that helped elect her. What would you say to her about those comments? I would say this is your megaphone moment I’m not sure he — she was ready to embrace. That through a tweet this has now caused, quite frankly, a firestorm, but what’s important to understand is that the resolution that came out was ultimately good. We should be condemning acts of hatred and bigotry, but at the same time, my advice to her at this moment would be, focus on your agenda, what you told your constituents you wanted to do for them, and now quite frankly, that’s going to be a little bit up in the air as so much attention is now on her comments. Alex, you’re shaking your head. You shook your head when you said, ultimately this came out good. I don’t think it came out well. I don’t think it came out well for the Democrats overall. It’s — she — congresswoman OMAR got mud on her white dress that she wore to the state of the union. Anti-semitic mud, and instead of apologizing and washing it off went — she hid in a crowd and not a cave. She said, let’s put other people on the stage with me and get mud on them, and Republicans were reluctant to help the Democrats I think hide their anti-semitism in a crowd like that and rightly so. Those 23 Republicans who voted against it? Yes, and how toothless was this? The congresswoman herself not only voted it, but celebrated it and said, oh, this is great because it’s the first time congress has voted against islamaphobia. This tells us something else too. How much power Nancy Pelosi does not have over the Democrats in congress now. The young Turks are running the show. She has to — she has to balance it. She has young people who come in with a tremendous amount of energy and followings. This is what’s different. This is what we have never seen before. We have never seen freshman members of congress have, in the case of AOC, millions of followers, and in the case of congresswoman OMAR, thousands, all independent. It has nothing to do with party. It has nothing to do with following even their own constituents. It is a completely independent power. So how do you handle that, and should they be trying to handle that? Sure they need to handle that because they need to have a party they can take to the electorate in 2020, and say here’s who we are in a voice that the electorate can recognize and vote for. One of the challenges for Pelosi is yes, she has a freshman member who has a following and they are quite active on social media and they have platforms, but they are not the ones who got Democrats the house majority back. That’s right. Those are freshmen who came from swing districts — Not even swing districts. Very Republican districts. Very Republican districts in some cases who were able to push Republican lawmakers out. Some of these freshmen come from safe democratic seats. Pelosi’s real challenge is she knows the energy of the party is there, and she has to contend with these lawmakers, but she actually needs to save and help re-elect a whole different crowd of lawmakers. That’s a real challenge for her over the next two years. They don’t understand that. They think — they think that because they won in some cases, defeating other Democrats, big in democratic districts, that that’s where the party is, and it is where the energy is, but it’s not where the voters are. I want to go back to these remarks that OMAR made again, and what that means. She said — she says she’s being unfairly labeled anti-semitic for those comments, but you heard congresswoman Luria there, Ted Deutsch who also called the comments wrong and hurtful. Do you think her comments are sparking a healthy conversation about how you can talk about Israel or just shutting it down? I think it is creating a healthy conversation. You can be critical of Israel like you can of any country that does not equate to being anti-semitic. She did come back to apologize to say she recognized why people felt this way, but I think it’s a debate that we quite frankly have kind of put behind closed doors. We need to bring this — this conversation to the forefront, because it is an issue for a number of people. The point of resolution was not to have it focus on anti-semitism, which was the original offense. It was to dilute it and hide it and let’s go to a safe place, and talk about hate speech in all — which is fine, but that’s not the offense. So no. You can’t have that debate in the democratic party right now. We brought up that poster that has OMAR in front of the towers. I mean, Alex, you remember this. This is of allegiance to a foreign power. It was used against catholics for many generations, you know, that they were allegiant to the Vatican. So there is this notion that if you are part of a religion that has some other country involved that you are not fully American, and that is really what that was all harking back to. And we mentioned that NPR interview with the senator who said he had spent hours with her before the election on how to talk about this issue, and stereotypes. Did she not listen or not understand or is she pushing? We have had pushing from our colleagues in Minnesota before she was running and took office there was some concern among jewish leaders in particular, some of her constituents she wasn’t talking about these issues in the right way. To a point that Stephanie was making, there could be a legitimate debate and has been a legitimate debate over a U.S. Policy toward Israel, but if that’s what she’s trying to advocate for, she’s actually hurting that cause versus the language. For Democrats, they won in 2018 and picked up a lot of seats. Running moderate-looking candidates who have had ar-15s and American flags in their commercials. Now they have been elected and we see where the passion and the energy is in the democratic party, and if the face of the democratic party is — is anti-semitic protosocialist, that’s going to be a good election for Republicans. One of the Republicans who defended the president’s comments after charlottesville voted against this. Is that a double standard? He was wrong to defend that, but right now if the two wrongs make a right argument is not going to work for the Democrats here, they did it too? The point is an anti-semitic barrage of comments. She apologized and then doubled down on this, and the democratic party can’t clean its own house. When Steve king did something like this, what happened? He got kicked off his committee. 13 years later though. That is fair. Republicans have lived with Steve king and he got a lot of endorsements. The number of things he has said over the decades. As the face of the democratic party for 13 years, good luck. She’s not the face of the democratic party. I want to talk about how president trump responded to this. Let’s listen. The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They have become an anti-jewish party, and I thought that vote was a disgrace. Kind of a highly dubious statement there, but we are seeing this pattern about immigration, socialism, putting these extreme labels on everything the Democrats do. Clearly a strategy for 2020. This is a re-election strategy for the president. He knows he has a base that’s going to be with him, but he is also well aware there is a segment of the Republican party that could be looking for another option if Democrats nominate a more moderate candidate. What he’s trying to do is paint the entire democratic party as It’s a smart technique. His base may love it, but how about the moderate Republicans he will lead? It will play pretty well because 2018 was a referendum on him. Does Donald Trump need a brake pedal? Yes, let’s send some Democrats up there. This man tweets at night. He’s a reckless and wild and disruptive president. 2020 is not going to be a referendum on trump. It’s going to be a choice. The choice is Donald Trump and the return of a democratic Washington establishment that can’t condemn anti-semitism when it emerges in its own party and that is running, you know, the energy is running with a socialist agenda. The green new deal. I mean, if the Democrats decide to have their convention in Venezuela, it’s not going to go well for them. You’re all in on this. We’ll have much more on that
This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.