Omar seeks to clarify comments after Jewish House Democrats accuse her of comparing US and Israel with Hamas and Taliban

Rep. Ilhan Omar said Thursday that she was “in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries” after a group of Jewish House Democrats accused her of equating the US and Israel with the Taliban and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group designated as a terrorist organization by the US.

“On Monday, I asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about ongoing International Criminal Court investigations,” Omar said in a statement. “To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel.

“I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.”

The clarification comes days after Omar prompted a public rift among Democrats when she tweeted Monday that “we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”

“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” she wrote, including a video of herself questioning Blinken during a House hearing Monday.

On Wednesday, the group of Jewish House lawmakers, including House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, argued that “equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided.”

“Ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice,” the group said in a statement.

They continued, “false equivalencies give cover to terrorist groups.”

Omar’s views on Israel and Palestinian rights have often put her at crossroads with fellow Democrats, and GOP members often highlight her stance to justify calls for her removal from committees. The dispute between Omar, a progressive from Minnesota, and the group of House members who pushed back on her comments underscores the fracture within the Democratic Party over Israel policy, continuing after a recent, violent days-long conflict in the region.

House Democratic leaders said in a statement Thursday, “We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban.”

But, they also said, “drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all.”

Omar, who is Muslim, had initially called her colleagues’ Wednesday statement “shameful” and accused them of using Islamophobic tropes.

“It’s shameful for colleagues who call me when they need my support to now put out a statement asking for ‘clarification’ and not just call. The islamophobic tropes in this statement are offensive. The constant harassment (and) silencing from the signers of this letter is unbearable,” she wrote on Twitter.

Jeremy Slevin, a spokesman for Omar, said that the congresswoman had reached out to the group ahead of their statement release to offer clarification, but calls were not returned.

Omar also shared a threatening, profanity-laced voicemail her office received, adding that “every time I speak out on human rights I am inundated with death threats.”

Fellow progressive Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York said in a tweet Thursday, “Pretty sick & tired of the constant vilification, intentional mischaracterization, and public targeting of @IlhanMN coming from our caucus.

“They have no concept for the danger they put her in by skipping private conversations & leaping to fueling targeted news cycles around her.”

Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan strongly criticized the statement by House Democratic leaders, saying in a tweet, “Freedom of speech doesn’t exist for Muslim women in Congress. The benefit of the doubt doesn’t exist for Muslim women in Congress. House Democratic leadership should be ashamed of its relentless, exclusive tone policing of Congresswomen of color.”

Omar also said she was citing an open case in the International Criminal Court against Israel, the US, Hamas and the Taliban, which she argued “isn’t comparison or from ‘deeply seated prejudice’.”

In March, the chief prosecutor at the ICC announced plans for a formal investigation into alleged war crimes by Israel in the Palestinian territories, prompting an angry response from Israeli leaders. Alleged war crimes by Palestinian militant groups like Hamas will also be investigated, but Israeli officials have said they believe the court is operating outside the scope of its mandate, questioning its de facto assertion that a Palestinian state exists under international law.

The ICC has also previously authorized an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Afghanistan by US armed forces, the CIA and the Taliban.

Israel and the United States are not signatories to the Rome Statute which established the ICC in 2002, so the court’s investigation and any eventual ruling carry less weight.

In a House Foreign Affairs hearing Monday, Omar had asked Blinken about the Biden administration’s opposition to the ICC pursuing those investigations.

“I haven’t seen any evidence in either cases that domestic courts both can and will prosecute alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Omar said to Blinken Monday, adding, “So in both of these cases, if domestic courts can’t or won’t pursue justice and we oppose the ICC, where do we think the victims of these supposed crimes can go for justice?”

Blinken replied that the US and Israel both have the mechanisms to ensure accountability in situations where there are concerns about use of force and human rights abuses. He added that the administration continues to believe that the ICC’s jurisdiction is inappropriate, absent a Security Council referral or request from the state itself.

Republicans have often condemned Omar’s views, and National Republican Congressional Committee spokesperson Mike Berg said Tuesday that “every House Democrat should condemn Omar’s disgusting comments.”

In February 2019, Omar was forced to apologize after members from both parties accused her of anti-Semitism for using an anti-Semitic trope.

The Democratic Party’s position has traditionally been in support of Israel, but progressives, including Omar, have been critical of the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians. Omar also supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a nonviolent activist campaign that aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel over its actions toward Palestinians, including calling for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

This latest dustup between Omar and her Democratic peers follows the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas-led militants in Gaza. Israel and Hamas agreed to a ceasefire on May 20, after more than a week of violent conflict that left hundreds of people dead, most of them Palestinians.

Following the violence in the Middle East region, the number of reported anti-Semitic incidents more than doubled in May compared to last year, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

This story and headline have been updated with additional information Thursday.

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The pandemic changed the way we ate and shopped — not always for the better

The pandemic changed the way we ate and shopped — not always for the better


FILE – In this May 23, 2011 file photo, consumer Sonia Romero shops for tomatoes at a Superior Grocers store in Los Angeles. As food costs continue rising, many grocery shoppers are seeking new ways to cut costs. After you’ve tried every store brand and linked, scanned and clipped every coupon in sight, what about buying in bulk? (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)


(CNN) — Covid-19 affected our lives in so many ways, including how we ate and shopped. The changes were not always for the better, according to a series of reports presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Nutrition.

Increase in junk food intake

An analysis by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found some of us increased our consumption of unhealthy snacks and desserts, including chips, cookies and ice cream, while also guzzling more sugary drinks such as sweetened coffee and teas, regular sodas, fruit drinks, and sports or energy drinks.

Over a third (36%) of the nearly 4,000 Americans who were surveyed in June 2020 reported sometimes consuming more unhealthy snacks and desserts than before the pandemic, while 22% said they sometimes drank sugary drinks.

However, 16% said they ate snacks and sweets often or always, while 10% said the same of sugary beverages. People who reported consuming the most unhealthy foods and drinks were more likely to identify as Hispanic or Black and be younger than age 65, obese, female, and of lower income and education levels.

The same survey also asked about food availability and safety. Nearly 6 in 10 people — predominately lower-income, unemployed, Black or Hispanic adults — said they were worried about not being able to obtain food at nearby stores or were concerned they might catch Covid-19 from food. Early fears that Covid-19 could be spread via food packaging were quickly discounted by scientists.

These findings “highlight the importance of strategies and communications that reduce fears and prevent unintended negative behaviors,” such as food hoarding and panic buying, said dietitian Brianna Dumas, a fellow in the CDC’s Research Participation Program, in an abstract.

In addition, public health officials should stress “consumer awareness of food access options during emergencies, including promotion of hunger safety net programs, especially among disproportionately affected groups,” Dumas said.

A drop in healthy foods

Another study analyzed the diets of more than 2,000 Americans before and during the pandemic and found a decrease in the consumption of healthy foods, including vegetables and whole grains, during the past year.

“This decrease was the most pronounced among women, black and Latino study participants, and participants who gained at least five pounds or more since 2018,” said Caroline Um, a postdoctoral fellow at the American Cancer Society, in a statement.

Um plans to follow study participants to understand how their diets might continue to change. Other studies will investigate which factors, such as mental health or financial stressors, might be involved in the change in eating behaviors.

Kids gained weight

Nearly 30% of 433 parents surveyed by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University said their child had gained an average of 9.6 pounds in the months between May and September of 2020.

Parents of children between 5 and 18 years old were questioned before the pandemic and again in May and September of 2020 about their concerns regarding their child’s weight.

Families who said their child gained weight during that time period were concerned about that trend and attempted to monitor and restrict their child’s eating habits in both May and September. However, in families where children did not gain weight, parents were initially concerned and monitored their child’s food intake in May, but had stopped doing so by September.

Further research is needed to investigate and target the “different behavioral, societal, environmental, and psychosocial factors” that might contribute to weight gain among children and adolescents, wrote Melanie Bean, an associate professor of pediatrics and co-director of the Healthy Lifestyles Center at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University, in an abstract.

Teasing people about their weight

Another study presented at the conference looked at the impact on children when family members teased them or made other critical comments about their weight. Researchers from Tufts University found that exposure to negative family comments about weight “as little as 3 times per month was significantly associated with moderate to high levels of weight bias internalization,” according to the study.

Prior research has shown that when children and adults experience weight stigma and internalize it, that itself can predict weight gain.

“A common perception is that a little shame or stigma might motivate people to lose weight, but that is not what we see in research,” Rebecca Puhl, deputy director at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut, told CNN in a prior interview.

“In fact, when people experience weight stigma, this actually contributes to unhealthy eating behaviors, lower physical activity and weight gain,” Puhl said. “Our studies show that when parents shift the conversation to healthy behaviors, that tends to be much more effective.

“The focus isn’t on the number on the weight scale, but on the whole family eating fruits and vegetables, replacing soda with water, getting daily physical activity,” she added.

Online grocery shopping

A study done in the early days of the pandemic — March and April of 2020 — found that a third of the nearly 18,000 households surveyed said they were shopping online for groceries, and, of those, 60% said they planned to continue to do so after the pandemic passed.

Their top reasons? Over 80% said it was to “avoid public germs and Covid-19,” while 44% wanted to “take advantage of the convenience,” according to Shu Wen Ng, an associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Higher food prices in areas with higher restrictions

Researchers from Tufts University’s Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy analyzed retail prices for food and other consumer goods in 133 counties in the United States and compared them to the levels of Covid-19 restrictions imposed by local governments.
Results showed that a higher level of government restrictions during the pandemic was associated with higher food prices, but did not affect the cost of other consumer goods.