- Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
- Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota was widely criticized on Monday for tweets about Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group.
- Omar was accused of using anti-Semitic tropes, including by top Democrats in Congress.
- Omar, who’s among the first female Muslim members of Congress, has maintained that she’s not anti-Semitic amid ongoing criticism of her stance on Israel.
- Omar on Monday afternoon issued a statement apologizing for her tweets and acknowledging the “painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
A number of congressional Democrats on Monday joined a growing chorus of criticism against freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota over her tweets about Israel that led to widespread allegations of anti-Semitism.
Omar ignited a social-media firestorm on Sunday after she suggested that support for Israel among Republican members of Congress is motivated by money.
“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted in response to a tweet from the journalist Glenn Greenwald about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threatening to take “action” against the freshman congresswoman over her criticism of Israel.
It's all about the Benjamins baby ???? https://t.co/KatcXJnZLV
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 10, 2019
Subsequently, when asked to clarify what she meant, Omar in a separate tweet seemed to suggest a pro-Israel lobbying group – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – is paying US politicians to support Israel.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
Omar was swiftly condemned on social media, and the backlash was hardly limited to Republicans. A number of her fellow Democrats expressed concern over Omar’s tweets, which many felt played into anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.
Jewish Democrats in Congress are lining up against Omar
Democratic Rep. Max Rose of New York, also a freshman in Congress, tweeted, “Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself.”
Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Elaine Luria of Virginia, who are also Jewish, have sent a letter to Democratic leaders urging them to take “swift action” against Omar and freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan over their recent remarks on Israel.
Omar and Tlaib are the first two female Muslim congresswomen in US history.
“We cannot remain silent in the face of hateful speech or actions. We know what happens in our communities when leaders ignore or embrace unacceptable rhetoric,” the letter said. “That is why we have an obligation to speak out against anti-Semitism and to vigorously confront, challenge, and defeat those who traffic in these harmful tropes and smears.”
For nearly two weeks, Rep. @IlhanMN has avoided meeting with me to discuss why anti-Semitic tropes like these are hurtful to so many Americans. There is absolutely no place for this rhetoric in Congress — or anywhere. https://t.co/0arhEAVyXO
— Rep Josh Gottheimer (@RepJoshG) February 11, 2019
Democratic Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, who’s also Jewish, in a statement said Omar’s “choice of words” were “deeply disappointing and disturbing.”
Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and one of the most powerful Democrats in Congress, went on to say, “In this fragile moment in our nation’s history, we must all redouble our efforts to engage in policy debates in ways that respect the dignity and humanity of all people.”
"In this fragile moment in our nation’s history, we must all redouble our efforts to engage in policy debates in ways that respect the dignity and humanity of all people." — Read my statement on the comments made by Rep. Ilhan Omar. pic.twitter.com/srHL49WUBN
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) February 11, 2019
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel, a Jewish Democrat from New York, in a statement on Monday called Omar’s tweets “unacceptable.”
“It’s shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money,'” Engel added. “Criticism of American policy toward any country is fair game, but this must be done on policy grounds.”
Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida, who’s also Jewish, in a statement said he found Omar’s remarks “unacceptable” and “deeply worrisome to the Jewish community.”
Democratic leaders call Omar’s remarks ‘deeply offensive’
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was joined by other Democratic leaders on Monday in condemning Omar’s remarks.
In a sternly worded statement, they called on Omar to apologize.
“Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception,” the statement said.
“Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” the statement added. “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”
Separately, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also condemned Omar’s tweets. “Rep. Omar’s use of an anti-Semitic stereotype was offensive and irresponsible,” Schumer said. “This kind of intolerance has no place in Congress-or anywhere in American society. No one should invoke anti-Semitic tropes during policy disagreements.””
Omar has expressed concern over the treatment of Palestinians by Israel
Omar is a proponent of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), a nonviolent, global campaign that seeks to isolate Israel economically and politically regarding the country’s treatment of Palestinians and the occupation of the West Bank.
The Minnesota congresswoman has been unabashedly critical of the Israeli government and said in a recent CNN interview it’s “exciting” to see a broader debate happening on the US government’s relationship with Israel.
“It’s not surprising. I think it is actually exciting because we are finally able to have conversations that we weren’t really willing to,” Omar said. “It is really important for us to get a different lens about what peace in that region could look like and the kind of difficult conversations we need to have about allies.”
“Israel is an ally of the United States and I think as much as you would look to your neighbor, to your friends, to live out the same values as you are, we want to make sure that our allies are living out the same values that we push for here,” she added.
Omar is hardly the first person in Washington to express concern about organizations such as AIPAC or criticize the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestine. She’s also not the first politician to be accused of anti-Semitism for doing so, as it has long been generally taboo for any US politician to go after Israel.
But there seems to be rising concern, including from Democrats, that Omar is not approaching what is among the most incendiary political topics with enough care and nuance.
Omar sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and has been accused of engaging in anti-Semitic tropes several times in recent weeks, including over statements she made on Israel years ago. Omar, who moved to the US from Somalia as a refugee in 1995, has responded to some of the criticism launched at her with allegations of Islamophobia.
Some Dems say it’s ‘perfectly legitimate to criticize Israel’ but are warning Omar to ‘be careful’
Speaking on the controversy over Omar’s tweets, Democratic Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut on Monday told CNN, “It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize Israel or the pro-Israeli lobby. Just please be careful to do it in a way that can’t be interpreted as being anti-Semitic.”
Himes added, “I think this is really a good example of the need for all of us to be very, very specific about what it is we are saying so that we don’t come off as being anti-Semitic, racist, bigoted.”
Amid the ongoing criticism, Omar has maintained that she supports the Jewish community and her comments are directed at the Israeli government in the context of its policy toward Palestine. She’s also expressed regret over how she’s framed her criticism of Israel in the past.
Meanwhile, Omar’s spokesman on Sunday told Politico that her “tweets speak for themselves.”
Under mounting pressure, Omar on Monday afternoon issued a statement apologizing for her tweets while acknowledging the “painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
“I unequivocally apologize,” Omar said.
In the statement, Omar also reaffirmed her concerns about the “problematic role” of lobbying in Washington in general, including from AIPAC.