In a rare rebuke of one of its star hosts, Fox News condemned Jeanine Pirro late Sunday for questioning whether Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s Islamic religious beliefs stand in opposition to the US Constitution.
“We strongly condemn Jeanine Pirro’s comments about Rep. Ilhan Omar,” Fox News said in a statement. “They do not reflect those of the network and we have addressed the matter with her directly.”
Controversial statements about Israel by Omar, a freshman Democratic lawmaker, have landed her in hot water with members of both parties.
Pirro suggested on her Saturday show that Omar’s beliefs about Israel stem from her religion. Omar is Somali-American and a practicing Muslim who wears a religious head-covering called a hijab.
“Think about it: Omar wears a hijab,” Pirro said on her “Justice” show on Fox News. “Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to Sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”
Pirro was denounced by figures on both the left and the right on Sunday.
Bret Stephens, a conservative columnist for The New York Times, said Pirro “is a disgrace.” He said “every healthy democracy needs a healthy conservative movement,” but “Fox News has become the chief driver in making that movement intemperate, idiotic, and illiberal.”
A Fox News staffer pushed back on Pirro’s statements. Hufsa Kamal, a producer on Fox’s “Special Report with Bret Baier,” tweeted: “@JudgeJeanine can you stop spreading this false narrative that somehow Muslims hate America or women who wear a hijab aren’t American enough? You have Muslims working at the same network you do, including myself.”
In her own statement on Sunday night, Pirro didn’t apologize, saying the intention of her comments “was to ask a question and start a debate.”
“Of course because one is Muslim does not mean you don’t support the Constitution,” she said. “I invite Rep. Omar to come on my show any time to discuss all of the important issues facing America today.”
Omar is a longtime critic of Israel’s Palestinian policies and a proponent of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions movement in the United States to condemn Israel’s government policies.
Those stances are not anti-Semitic. But Omar has made several statements about Israel over the past few months that echo common anti-Semitic expressions about dual allegiances, Jewish money and power.
For example, she questioned why it is acceptable for supporters of Israel “to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” In response to journalist Glenn Greenwald’s tweet about politicians’ support of Israel, Omar replied, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” And in response to a question about who she believes pays American politicians to be pro-Israel, Omar responded “AIPAC!” refering to the pro-Israel lobby group.
After Omar’s latest controversial statement about Israel supporters, the House of Representatives on Thursday passed a resolution broadly condemning hate and intolerance, including anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim discrimination.
“We are tremendously proud to be part of a body that has put forth a condemnation of all forms of bigotry including anti-Semitism, racism, and white supremacy,” said Omar in a joint statement with fellow Democratic Congressmen Rashida Tlaib and Andre Carson – all three of the Muslim members of the US Congress.
“At a time when extremism is on the rise, we must explicitly denounce religious intolerance of all kinds and acknowledge the pain felt by all communities,” they said. “Our nation is having a difficult conversation and we believe this is great progress.”
Pirro’s question about Omar’s allegiances are similar to Omar’s questions about Israel supporters’ allegiances: As Omar asked why it is acceptable for Americans to be pro-Israel, Pirro questioned how a Muslim could follow Islamic religious law and American constitutional law at the same time.
Sharia law refers to a set of principles that govern the moral and religious lives of Muslims. Muslims’ adherence to Sharia varies in the United States and around the world. As with all major religions, scholars have interpreted the Quran and other religious texts in myriad ways, and Muslims from different sects, regions and countries practice differently and with varying degrees of observance.
Religious garb, including hijabs, habits, yarmulkes and other adornments, are protected speech in the United States. Pirro’s comments echo a common anti-Islamic belief that Muslims have allegiances to Sharia law over American law.
Brian Stelter contributed to this report