Both women are under fire for comments they have made on Twitter, and in Ms. Tlaib’s case, for her association with Palestinian rights activists who have used social media either to express or share extreme views, such as equating Zionism with Nazism. Both declined to be interviewed, instead sending written statements in which they expressed their commitment to fighting hatred of any kind, while also standing up for the oppressed.
“This respect for free speech does not equate to anti-Semitism,” Ms. Tlaib wrote, defending economic boycotts as peaceful and constitutionally protected. “I dream of my Palestinian grandmother living with equal rights and human dignity one day, and would never allow that dream to be tainted by any form of hate.”
Ms. Omar sought to turn the tables on Republicans. “Especially at a time when white supremacist violence is on the rise,” she wrote, “we all need to condemn hate against any religious group — something the current President has shamefully failed to do.”
Defenders of the women warn that their critics are entering dangerous territory by conflating anti-Zionism, hostility toward Israel as a Jewish state, with anti-Semitism, hostility toward Jews — a trend that Jeremy Ben Ami, the president of J Street, the liberal Jewish advocacy group, said he found “disturbing.” J Street did not endorse Ms. Omar and rescinded its endorsement of Ms. Tlaib after she declined to publicly support a two-state solution with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side.
Even so, Mr. Ben Ami said the two are “opening up a discussion that is absolutely needed on American policy,” and are helping to pull the Democratic Party more toward the view espoused by J Street and “younger liberal Jews” who believe that “you can be sympathetic to the state of Israel and also sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinian people.”
Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar both made history with their elections. Ms. Tlaib, 42, is the first Palestinian-American woman in Congress; her grandmother lives in the West Bank. Ms. Omar, 36, fled war-torn Somalia with her family as a child and is the first Somali-American lawmaker in the Capitol. House Democrats changed a 181-year-old rule barring head coverings to allow her to wear her hijab.