Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib Again Break With Democratic Leaders Over Latest Gaza Attack

An escalation in violence over the weekend that took place thousands of miles away from Washington, D.C. has once again exposed the divide among House Democratic Leadership and some of its more progressive freshmen members.

While the monthlong celebration of Ramadan began for Muslims over the weekend, so did the deadliest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in recent years, leading lawmakers to issue statements.

Protests at the border of the Gaza Strip and Israel that resulted in deaths and injuries on May 3 led to a barrage of rocket launches by Hamas, the militant group in control of Gaza, into Israel over the weekend. A handful of Israelis were killed, according to media reports from the Middle East region, and more than 100 injured. Israel quickly retaliated with hundreds of airstrikes of its own against Gaza and Hamas targets, causing roughly two dozen Palestinian deaths and hundreds of injuries, according to the Palestinian Health Ministry.

The violence was condemned by U.S. lawmakers—but in different ways, with the most noticeable differences coming from members of the Democratic Party.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer defended Israel and demanded that Hamas "immediately stop launching rockets into Israel." The Maryland Democrat said it was "never acceptable" for Hamas to target "innocent communities," adding that Israel had "every right to defend itself."

"They were a gross and blatant violation of international law, and the Israeli actions to neutralize rocket launchers and prevent further attacks are entirely justified," Hoyer said in a statement. "The United States Congress, in a bipartisan fashion, stands strongly in support of our ally Israel and its right to protect its citizens from terror."

Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, made similar remarks on Twitter Monday. The New Yorker said Gaza's rockets "put innocent Israeli civilians in harm's way" and that "Israel, just like any country, has a right to defend itself and its people from such terrorism."

A contrasting message was issued by Congress' first Muslim women elected to Congress: Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

Gaza-Israel Conflict Re-expose Rifts in Democratic Party
From left: Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) arrive to the State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol on February 5. SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Omar, a Minnesota lawmaker who is no stranger to voicing controversial statements on Israel and has been accused several times of making anti-Semitic tropes, and Tlaib had a more sympathetic position toward Palestinians and the people of Gaza. Both support the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement—which seeks to exert international pressure on Israel over disputed territories, including Gaza, and ongoing conflicts with Palestine.

Omar and Tlaib took to Twitter over the weekend not to condemn Hamas or praise Israel, but rather to advocate for the "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza.

"How many more protesters must be shot, rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends?" Omar said. "The status quo of occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unsustainable. Only real justice can bring about security and lasting peace."

The region's people have faced a blockade by Israel and Egypt for 12 years, crippling Gaza's economy as it tries to dismantle the Hamas militant group's reign since 2007.

What reportedly gave rise to the rocket attacks and violent weekend began with thousands of Palestinians protesting along the Gaza-Israel border Friday to end the blockade. Reports said that Israeli soldiers were wounded by gunfire from Gaza and Palestinians were killed by an Israeli airstrike and protesters, some of whom Israel said were Hamas militants.

"When will the world stop dehumanizing our Palestinian people who just want to be free?" Tlaib said. She shared a story by The New York Times with the headline Gaza Militants Fire 250 Rockets, and Israel Responds With Airstrikes.

"Headlines like this & framing it in this way just feeds into the continued lack of responsibility on Israel who unjustly oppress & target Palestinian children and families. #FreePalestine," the Michigan congresswoman said.

The ongoing foreign conflict may reignite rifts between party leadership and its more liberal members at times, but it's something Hoyer defended in the past as being reminiscent of a party with hundreds of members with wide-ranging opinions.

When House Democrats were divided on how exactly to condemn alleged anti-Semitic remarks made by Omar, Hoyer told Newsweek it should "not surprise you when you've got a group of people together talking" about how to handle an issue, and that there were differences of opinion even famong members of the same party.

Hoyer's office did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment.

This story has been updated to include information in a tweet from Representative Jerrold Nadler issued Monday afternoon.

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