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After Omar’s Israel Comments, Jewish And Muslim Pols Sought Understanding At Emotional Private Meetings

In the days after the latest controversial statements about Israel made by Rep. Ilhan Omar, Jewish and Muslim lawmakers held a late-night, secretive meeting near Capitol Hill to try and ease tensions and create understanding. The previously unreported meeting was described in an article from the Washington Post.

At the meeting, about a dozen lawmakers of various faiths and backgrounds shared their past experiences with bigotry. After about two hours, Rep. Dean Phillips, who is Jewish, made an emotional plea directly to Omar. He called her latest comment — that Jews have “dual allegiance” to Israel — one of the “tips of the arrow”: comments that make Jews worry about the increasing frequency of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. Phillips asked Omar to apologize.

Phillips pointed comments caught some lawmakers in the room off guard. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, began to cry. She spoke about the persecution her grandmother has faced as a resident of the West Bank.

“She would treat you like a grandson,” Tlaib reportedly told Phillips. The meeting then broke up “on a bitter note,” the Post reported.

Phillips said he did not intend to offend anyone, and that he had learned from the interaction.

“It wasn’t planned, and it wasn’t what we expected,” he told the Post. “But I think it was cathartic. It certainly was for me.”

The meeting apparently had an effect on several Jewish lawmakers who attended, who pushed back against the Democratic party leadership’s plan at the time to rebuke Omar by name with a House resolution.

“If we can’t be on the same page, it’s hard for the country to,” Phillips told the Post. “We have an opportunity here because the eyes are on us. We know that.”

The informal meetings have been happening since February 13, days after Omar tweeted that support of AIPAC was “all about the benjamins, baby.” The first one was organized by Rep. Jamie Raskin, who is Jewish.

The latest meeting, meant to focus more directly on anti-Semitism, was organized by Rep. Andy Levin, a former synagogue president, and it included members of the Jewish non-profit Bend The Arc. He said that the meetings will continue.

“This wasn’t a one-time thing,” he told the Post.

Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at feldman@forward.com or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman

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