Zeldin in Twitter War With Omar
Representative Lee Zeldin was at the heart of a heated exchange on Twitter last week that laid bare the hyper-partisan atmosphere in Washington, accusing a newly elected colleague in the House of Representatives of “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hate.”
On Jan. 29, the same day he was appointed ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, he took to Twitter to state that he “Just learned that Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was also put on this committee w oversight of US foreign policy. Crazy to watch what House Dems are empowering/elevating.”
Mr. Zeldin, who was elected to a third term in November, is one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress. He is a strong supporter of Israel and an equally passionate critic of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, or B.D.S., movement, which aims to force Israel into concessions with the Palestinian people. Its proponents liken their campaign to the anti-apartheid movement aimed at South Africa’s then-minority government; its detractors say that its real goal is Israel’s destruction.
Ms. Omar is one of two Muslim women elected to the House last year. She and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan are Democrats. Both have been repeatedly accused of anti-Semitism. With her family, Ms. Omar fled Somalia at the start of its civil war in 1991. They were resettled in the United States as refugees in 1995.
In a 2012 tweet, she said that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Republicans and Democrats alike have criticized the remark, and on Jan. 22 she tweeted about “the anti-semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.” In a statement to The New York Times, she said that she supports Israeli and Palestinian states “side by side,” but “I will never apologize for standing up against oppression and injustice in Israel or anywhere else.”
She was dismissive in a Jan. 30 tweet responding to Mr. Zeldin’s of the previous day. “Don’t mind him, he is just waking up to the reality of having Muslim women as colleagues who know how to stand up to bullies!” she wrote. “It’s gonna be fun watching him lose his marbles.”
Mr. Zeldin escalated the altercation last Thursday, posting a voice-mail recording that had been left at his office. The caller, who indicated that he is African-American, left a rambling, anti-Semitic message filled with expletives and references to Hitler. To Ms. Omar, Mr. Zeldin tweeted, “this is just another day in my world as an American Jew in Congress. Would love to know what part of this hate filled, anti-Semitic rant you disagree with? I disagree with all of it. Do you?”
Ms. Omar responded on the same day. “This is heinous and hateful. I too am flooded with bigoted voicemails and calls every day. Maybe we could meet and share notes on how to fight religious discrimination of all kinds? Maybe over Somali tea, in your old office which I happen to be in now.” (Ms. Omar chose Mr. Zeldin’s former office after he, as a returning member of Congress, was able to choose a different space.)
Mr. Zeldin accepted the invitation via Twitter on Friday, though as of yesterday the two had not met, according to a spokeswoman for the congressman. He also took the opportunity to pressure Ms. Omar to co-sponsor a House resolution he introduced called “Rejecting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in the United States and around the world” that references Ms. Omar’s 2012 tweet alongside incidents including the October 2018 mass shooting at a syna-
gogue in Pittsburgh and the August 2017 white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va.
Asked, on the Fox News Channel, why he directed that voice mail to Ms. Omar, Mr. Zeldin referred to her support for the B.D.S. movement and accused her of being anti-Israel. “We’re seeing anti-Israel, anti-Semitic hate infiltrating American politics,” including “the halls of Congress,” he said.
Via a spokeswoman, Mr. Zeldin told The Star yesterday that “It’s crazy that House Democrats appointed a member of Congress to oversee U.S. foreign policy who has advocated for leniency of ISIS fighters, has been the highest profile U.S. government defender recently of Venezuelan President Maduro, supports the B.D.S. movement targeting Israel, and has tweeted out ‘Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.’ That unfortunately is all just a sampling. House Democrats should not be empowering those positions and that rhetoric.”
Last month, he noted, the House voted almost unanimously to condemn white supremacy, and Representative Steve King, a Republican of Iowa who has used racist language and promoted neo-Nazis, was stripped of his committee seats. “Why won’t Democrats take similar action with the hate in their ranks?” Mr. Zeldin’s spokeswoman asked. “Instead, they give it a larger voice and greater platform, which is unacceptable.”
On Saturday, his attacks broadened, with a tweet that accusations of Islamophobia and racism leveled at him were “disgusting spin coming from the left.” On Monday, he attacked an opinion piece in The Forward, a Jewish-American periodical, which criticized his tweet directing the anti-Semitic voice mail at Ms. Omar. “This person calls me ‘Nazi-supporting’ & you’re going to play along promoting this person’s eager attack on a Jewish Member of Congress?” he tweeted to The Forward. Ms. Omar and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were also addressed in the tweet.
And on Tuesday, he tweeted that he had made “no references to anyone else’s religion/race” and “now I’m called a Nazi supporter, Islamophobe & racist of all things. All lies & absurd spin from radicalized left!” (Since the November 2018 midterm elections, in which Democrats recaptured a majority in the House of Representatives, many Republicans and right-leaning media have taken to using the term “radical left” to portray Democratic legislators.)
The congressman’s words were a departure from a statement made on the same day he had launched the rancorous exchange with Ms. Omar. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to provide bipartisan oversight of American foreign policy,” he said in the Jan. 29 announcement of his appointment as ranking member of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.