By Mary Oster
(JTA) — Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders said that he does not consider Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota to be an antisemite, but that she has to do a “better job in speaking to the Jewish community.”
Sanders participated Monday evening in a televised town hall meeting in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, hosted by Fox News Channel.
However, he distanced himself from Omar, who has angered some Jewish leaders and organizations by repeating anti-Semitic tropes. Sanders refuted moderator Brett Baier’s description of him as a “staunch supporter” of Omar, saying “I’ve talked to Ilhan about twice in my life.”
Sanders, like Omar, has been critical of the Israeli government over its treatment of the Palestinians. He said ahead of last week’s national elections in Israel that he hoped that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would lose the election. That did not happen.
“I will do everything in my power, and I hope that every member of Congress will fight not only anti-Semitism, but racism and anti-Muslim activity so that we create a non-discriminatory society,” Sanders said. “But it is not anti-Semitic to be critical of a right-wing government in Israel. That is not antisemitic.”
The statement was greeted with applause from the participants in the town hall meeting.
Sanders would be the first Jewish president if he garners the Democratic nomination and wins the 2020 election.
On Monday Sanders released 10 years of tax returns, showing that he is a millionaire. He and his wife earned $566,000 last year.
CAP: Sen. Bernie Sanders at an event to introduce the Raise The Wage Act in the Rayburn Room at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 16, 2019. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)