Sanders press aide apologizes for comment on American Jews

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A new press aide on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign has apologized for comments online questioning whether American Jews held a “dual allegiance” with Israel.

“In a conversation on Facebook, I used some language that I see now was insensitive,” Belén Sisa, Sanders’ incoming deputy press secretary for Latino outreach, said in a statement. “Issues of allegiance and loyalty to one’s country come with painful history. At a time when so many communities in our country feel under attack by the president and his allies, I absolutely recognize that we need to address these issues with greater care and sensitivity to their historical resonance, and I’m committed to doing that in the future.”

As first reported by Politico late Tuesday, Sisa, in the course of a Facebook exchange over Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar’s controversial recent remarks, asked another commenter, “Do you not think that the American government and American Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the state of Israel? I’m asking not to rule out the history of this issue, but in the context in which this was said by Ilhan.”

Sisa deleted the comment after she was first approached by a Politico reporter, according to that outlet.

Speaking on a panel last month in Washington, Omar, a Democrat, discussed the backlash to her use of what many have described as anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and some pro-Israel American lobbyists.

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” she said. Her comments struck many, including some of her Democratic colleagues, as anti-Semitic tropes, including that suggestion that Jews might have dual allegiances, to their home country and Israel or some other entity.

Omar’s February comment was met with swift condemnation from the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, New York Rep. Eliot Engel.

“I welcome debate in Congress based on the merits of policy, but it’s unacceptable and deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the US-Israel relationship,” Engel said in the statement.

It was not the first time Omar had been criticized for imputing that Israel’s most vocal American backers had been in some way compromised by their support for the state, leading to Democratic infighting over how to respond. The House eventually passed a resolution last week, with only a few Republican dissenting, condemning “hateful expressions of intolerance” against Jews, Muslims and other minorities.

Omar, over the course of a few weeks of being confronted over several statements, has apologized and defended herself.

“When I talk about places like Saudi Arabia or Israel or even now with Venezuela, I’m not criticizing the people,” Omar said in a recent appearance on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.”

But she’s also continued to employ controversial rhetoric when discussing Israel, American foreign policy and lobbying.

Omar is one of the first two female Muslim House members, along with Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, and has been the target of Islamophobic and racist attacks. Republicans have pushed to have her removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee, but Engel has not asked Democratic leadership to take that step.

Sanders, who is Jewish, defended Omar in a statement last week.

“Anti-Semitism is a hateful and dangerous ideology which must be vigorously opposed in the United States and around the world. We must not, however, equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel,” the Vermont independent said. “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”

Sens. Kamala Harris of California and Massachusetts’ Elizabeth Warren also posed similar concerns, with Harris expressing her worry “that the spotlight being put on (Omar) may put her at risk.”