Belén Sisa, the Latino press secretary for Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-VT) 2020 presidential campaign, has apologized for questioning whether American Jews hold “dual allegiance” to Israel, Politico reported Tuesday evening.
Sisa reportedly asked the question on Facebook Sunday as part of a larger discussion about her support for Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who came under fire this month for suggesting pro-Israel groups pressure members of Congress to pledge allegiance to a foreign country.
“In a conversation on Facebook, I used some language that I see now was insensitive. Issues of allegiance and loyalty to one’s country come with painful history,” Sisa said in a statement to Politico. “At a time when so many communities in our country feel under attack by the president and his allies, I absolutely recognize that we need to address these issues with greater care and sensitivity to their historical resonance, and I’m committed to doing that in the future.”
As the Washington Examiner reported, Sisa is a self-declared “undocumented” immigrant whose parents brought her illegally to the U.S. from Argentina at six years old and is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipient. Her legal protection from deportation will expire next year.
Some Jewish leaders, still reeling from Omar’s latest anti-Jewish outburst, expressed anger with Sisa’s remarks. “I would totally disagree with that. It’s ridiculous. … She’s wrong,” said Jewish Flordia Democrat Rep. Lois Frankel. “That’s just a terrible statement to make,” Frankel continued, adding Sisa’s comments is one of several reasons why “Bernie Sanders is not my candidate.”
A Jew from Sisa’s home state of Arizona pointed out the history of the “dual allegiance” slur in the Facebook thread — from the hangings of Jews in ancient Persia to the 1492 purge of Jews in Spain to Nazi Germany.
Sisa’s response: “This is a serious question: do you not think that the American government and American Jewish community has a dual allegiance to the state of Israel? I’m asking not to rule out the history of this issue, but in the context in which this was said by Ilhan.”
Another person on her Facebook then asked: “do you think Bernie Sanders has dual loyalty?” Sisa replied: “I think I would probably have to ask him? But his comments make me believe other wise as he has been very blunt on where he stands.” She then shared links to articles on Sanders’ recent reaction to Omar’s comments.
Sisa deleted the post on Tuesday, claiming she initially raised the issue of dual loyalty because she views it as an “injustice” that immigrant communities in the U.S. face today. “I deleted my previous question, because I don’t think it truly represents the question I was asking or what I was meaning to say,” she wrote. “I think the injustice of questioning someone’s loyalty because of their culture or where they come from is something that is happening through comments being made about Mexican immigrants and a lot of the immigrant community now.”
Among all the Democrat presidential candidates, Sanders, who is Jewish, has voiced the most support for Omar amid accusation of antisemitism. In a statement on the Minnesota Democrat’s remarks, Sanders said people should not “equate anti-Semitism with legitimate criticism of the right-wing, Netanyahu government in Israel.”
“Rather, we must develop an even-handed Middle East policy which brings Israelis and Palestinians together for a lasting peace,” he added. “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate. That’s wrong.”
In response to Omar’s remarks, the House last week passed a resolution condemning various forms of hate, though it failed to specifically condemn the freshman congresswoman. Nearly two dozen Republicans, including Jewish New York lawmaker Rep. Lee Zeldin, voted against the measure because of its watered-down language.