Omar Draws Criticism for Suggesting Some Jewish Students Are ‘Pro-Genocide’


Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, whose daughter was among the students arrested at a Columbia University protest encampment against Israel’s actions in Gaza, suggested while visiting the protesters on campus last week that some Jewish students supported genocide.

Ms. Omar, a Democrat, was rejecting the argument that the protests were antisemitic, noting that many of the participants were Jewish.

“I think it is really unfortunate that people don’t care about the fact that all Jewish kids should be kept safe, and that we should not have to tolerate antisemitism or bigotry for all Jewish students, whether they’re pro-genocide or anti-genocide,” she said.

Earlier in the week, the Republican House speaker, Mike Johnson, used his own visit to Columbia to suggest that President Biden should summon the National Guard to college campuses, a prospect that brought to mind the National Guard’s killing of four unarmed student protesters at Kent State University in Ohio during the Vietnam War. He was accompanied by his Republican colleague Anthony D’Esposito, who accused the pro-Palestinian protesters of being “proud that you’ve been endorsed by Hamas.”

Representative Jared Moskowitz of Florida, who came to Columbia with other Democrats who support Israel, likened some protesters to the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.

And at Washington University in St. Louis, the Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein joined a demonstration and was arrested along with dozens of other protesters.

As pro-Palestinian student protests have spread and intensified in the wake of a police crackdown at Columbia, a procession of politicians have visited campuses with words of support or condemnation. The visits underscore how profoundly the protests have become intertwined with American politics — and the extent to which many elected officials are taking sides on what, if not for the police response and the statements from national figures, might have been a small subplot in the much larger story of what is happening in Gaza.

Ms. Omar’s suggestion that some Jewish students were pro-genocide drew backlash, with the Anti-Defamation League’s leader calling it “blood libel” and CNN asking Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont on Sunday whether he was “comfortable” with it. (Mr. Sanders, who is Jewish and supports the protests, said that opposition to antisemitism was Ms. Omar’s “essential point,” and that “the word ‘genocide’ is something that is being determined by the International Court of Justice.”)

Ms. Omar responded to the A.D.L. criticism by citing comments reported by Palestinian and other Arab students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, including “kill all Arabs” and “level Gaza.” She wrote on social media, “This is the pro-genocide I was talking about, can you condemn this like I have condemned antisemitism and bigotry of all kind?”

The campus visits began last Monday with the group of pro-Israel Democrats: Mr. Moskowitz, Daniel Goldman of New York, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Kathy Manning of North Carolina. In an interview with CNN afterward, Mr. Moskowitz referred to comments like “Go back to Poland” and said, “I know the people saying this aren’t, you know, white Aryan males with tiki torches, but they have the same message.”

At many points, there has been a divide between student encampments — which have been peaceful and have included many Jewish participants — and demonstrations just off campus, where some people have made overtly antisemitic comments.

Mr. Johnson, the House speaker, visited Columbia on Wednesday with several other House Republicans: Mr. D’Esposito, Mike Lawler and Nicole Malliotakis of New York, and Virginia Foxx of North Carolina.

Mr. Johnson met privately with Jewish students, then called on Mr. Biden to bring in the National Guard and on Congress to “revoke federal funding to these universities if they can’t keep control.” He said, referring to antisemitism, “Powerful people have refused to condemn it, and some have even peddled it themselves.”

Some of the protesters jeered him, and one pro-Israel counterprotester dismissed his visit as “a political stunt.”

That visit, in turn, came a week after the event that precipitated the escalation of the protests: The president of Columbia, Nemat Shafik, who goes by Minouche, testified before a congressional committee under questioning led by Representative Elise Stefanik, Republican of New York, who has grilled a series of college presidents over allegations that they were failing to combat antisemitism on campus.

Ms. Shafik called the New York Police Department to break up a pro-Palestinian encampment the next day. More than 100 students were arrested, but the protesters rebuilt the encampment, and the protests quickly spread to other campuses nationwide.

Mr. Johnson and his group were followed by Ms. Omar, who was followed by two other Democrats from the progressive “Squad” — Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman of New York, who met with the protesters at Columbia to express support.

And hundreds of miles away, at Washington University in St. Louis, Ms. Stein was arrested on Saturday along with dozens of students.

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