Representative-elect Ilhan Omar, D-MN, attends a press conference in the House Visitors Center at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on November 30, 2018.
Lawmaker hopes Omar will grow and change after comments
01:52 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said Tuesday that he does not want Rep. Ilhan Omar removed from her seat on the committee for making comments about pro-Israel groups that several lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have called anti-Semitic.

Asked by CNN’s Erin Burnett on “Erin Burnett OutFront” whether he was considering stripping the Minnesota Democrat of her spot on the committee, a move that has largely been pushed by Republicans, Rep. Eliot Engel replied, “No, I’m not close to it.”

“I don’t know that that would do anything except exacerbate the situation even more,” the New York Democrat said, clarifying that House leadership decides committee membership. “I’m looking to get rid of anti-Semitism, not looking to punish anybody.”

“It’s very important that we keep our eye on the prize, and I think that whenever there is hatred being spewed, or again, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, Islamophobia, I think we have to speak out,” he added.

Engel’s comments come following his demand that Omar apologize for comments she made at a bookstore last week in which she said pro-Israel lawmakers are under “the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

House lawmakers will vote this week on a resolution prompted by Omar’s comments that condemns anti-Semitism and was updated Tuesday to also condemn anti-Muslim bias.

On Tuesday, Engel called Omar’s remarks anti-Semitic but didn’t go so far as to label the congresswoman an anti-Semite.

“I don’t throw names around,” Engel responded when asked whether Omar was an anti-Semite. “I think the remarks she made have been very troubling.”

“You hope that people get elected to office and they grow,” he said.

“I would hope the same thing would happen to her, but I’m not going to sit silent as long as there are people who are yelling out anti-Semitic tropes or anti-anything tropes,” he added.

Despite being in office only two months, Omar has already courted controversy surrounding her views on Israel. Last month, she faced criticism and subsequently apologized for tweets insinuating that the pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee was effectively buying off US politicians.

Omar had responded to a tweet by journalist Glenn Greenwald that read, “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”

Omar replied, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” followed by a musical notes emoji.

Batya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor of the Forward, replied, tweeting, “Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.”

Omar responded to the tweet and wrote, “AIPAC!”

She later apologized after Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other members of House Democratic leadership said anti-Semitism had to be called out “without exception.”

“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” Omar said in a tweet. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”