House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Wednesday the experience of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is “more personal” than that of the children of people who have survived the Holocaust and other atrocities, drawing a rebuke from the Anti-Defamation League.
Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, made the comments in an interview with the Hill in which he defended Omar amid criticism over her alleged anti-Semitic statements.
The House is poised to vote Thursday afternoon on a measure that was prompted by Omar’s comment at an event last week that supporters of Israel’s government have an “allegiance to a foreign country.” The measure broadly condemns hate but does not mention Omar or her remarks specifically.
In the interview with the Hill, Clyburn said he had spoken at length with Omar, who was born in Somalia and fled with her family to a refugee camp in Kenya where she lived for four years as a child.
She “is living through a lot of pain,” Clyburn told the newspaper, drawing a contrast between Omar’s firsthand experience and the perspectives of those whose parents or grandparents survived the Holocaust or other historical atrocities.
“There are people who tell me, ‘Well, my parents are Holocaust survivors.’ ‘My parents did this.’ It’s more personal with her,” Clyburn said in the interview.
The Anti-Defamation League on Thursday responded by saying it respects Clyburn’s “long record of public service” but the lawmaker should apologize for and retract his remarks.
“The Holocaust was a singular tragedy resulting in the death of 6M Jews,” the organization said in a statement posted on its Twitter account. “It’s offensive to diminish the suffering of survivors & the continuing pain of Jews today.”
Clyburn responded later Thursday afternoon with a statement in which he said he recognizes the Holocaust is “a unique atrocity which resulted in the deaths of six million Jews.”
“It should never be minimized; I never have, and I never will . . . To recognize and honor the experiences of one member of our Caucus does not mean that we ignore or dishonor the experiences of another,” he said.
Clyburn also clarified his remarks in an interview Thursday with the McClatchy news service. He said lawmakers “need to honor and respect” Omar’s experience living in a refugee camp and described himself as among those who have not experienced a historical atrocity firsthand.
“A lot of people in this caucus will talk about slavery. I never experienced slavery. A lot of people in our caucus will talk about the Holocaust who didn’t experience the Holocaust. You may have inherited its legacy, and I’ve inherited the legacy of slavery, but Ilhan Omar lived in a refugee camp,” Clyburn said in the interview, a partial transcript of which was provided by the lawmaker’s office.
He called for members of Congress to “not beat up on somebody and put her through another two years of what she’s been through for four years. I just don’t see that.”