Omar apologizes after Dem leaders blast tweets as ‘anti-Semitic’
Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) apologized on Monday for tweets suggesting that American lawmakers were motivated by money to defend Israel.
Omar’s apology came after she spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who along with other House Democratic leaders called on her to apologize for the “use of anti-Semitic tropes” about Jewish people and money.
“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” Omar, one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, said in a statement. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
But Omar stood by her criticism of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) special interest influence.
“At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it,” Omar wrote.
Omar on Sunday sparked backlash when she retweeted journalist Glenn Greenwald responding to a story about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) promising “action” against her and fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) over their views critical of Israel.
“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted, referring to money.
Omar then tweeted that AIPAC was paying American politicians to support Israel. AIPAC doesn’t directly donate to political candidates but does sponsor regular congressional delegations to Israel.
Pelosi, along with the other top members of the House Democratic leadership, issued a joint statement condemning Omar’s comments and called on her to apologize. By that point, dozens of Democratic lawmakers and Jewish advocacy groups had already rebuked Omar for her remarks.
“We are and will always be strong supporters of Israel in Congress because we understand that our support is based on shared values and strategic interests,” House Democratic leaders said in the statement. “Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share.”
“But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments,” they wrote.
Multiple House committee chairmen who are Jewish also condemned Omar’s comments.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) said that Omar’s tweets were “deeply hurtful and offensive.”
“While of course our nation’s leaders are free to debate the relative influence of a particular organization on our country’s policy-making process, or the factors that make our system of governance imperfect, there is an expectation of leaders—particularly those with a demonstrated commitment to the cause of justice and equality—that they would be extremely careful not to tread into the waters of anti-Semitism or any other form of prejudice or hate. Rep. Omar failed that test of leadership with these comments,” Nadler said in a lengthy statement.
And House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) similarly accused Omar, who serves on his panel, of invoking an “anti-Semitic trope.”
“I fully expect that when we disagree on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we will debate policy on the merits and never question members’ motives or resort to personal attacks,” Engel said in a statement.
House GOP leaders called for Omar to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee following her weekend tweets.
“Good that some Dems have condemned the disgraceful anti-Semitic remarks of Rep. Omar — but their words are empty unless Dem leaders remove her from the Foreign Affairs Committee. No one with her anti-Semitic views should be allowed to represent US foreign policy on that committee,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in a tweet.
A spokesman for Engel didn’t return a request for comment on whether the chairman still supported keeping Omar on the committee.
Earlier Monday, McCarthy had pledged that Republicans would “take action this week to ensure the House speaks out against this hatred and stands with Israel and the Jewish people.”
McCarthy’s office didn’t immediately clarify what that action would include.
But Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.), who is Jewish, introduced a resolution last month condemning anti-Semitism that specifically cites previous comments from Omar and Tlaib about Israel. Both Omar and Tlaib support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which is critical of Israel on human rights issues in the long-standing conflict with Palestine.
The controversy was only the most recent example of Omar being accused of using language offensive to Jewish people.
She previously came under fire over a tweet from 2012, sent during the Gaza war, in which she wrote: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel.”
Omar backtracked last month, writing in a tweet that “It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy is disavowing the anti-semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.”
Omar and Tlaib, the other Muslim woman elected to Congress, have drawn intense scrutiny from Republicans in the first weeks serving in the House.
Omar recently got into a heated exchange with Zeldin, her fellow Foreign Affairs Committee member, after he criticized her appointment to the panel’s oversight subcommittee as “crazy.”
“Don’t mind him, he is just waking up to the reality of having Muslim women as colleagues who know how to stand up to bullies!” Omar tweeted. “It’s gonna be fun watching him lose his marbles.”
Zeldin fired back, writing: “Those poor innocent ISIS fighters & Palestinian terrorists right? Give me a break! That’s a problem no matter your religion or gender Ilhan. Your anti-Semitic & anti-Israel hate is strong & wrong & those terrorists have US blood on their hands as well.”
Zeldin later shared a vulgar anti-Semitic voicemail left for his office. Omar then responded by calling the message “heinous and hateful” and suggested they meet to discuss combatting religious discrimination over Somali tea.
“I too am flooded with bigoted voicemails and calls every day,” said Omar, a Somali refugee. “Maybe we could meet and share notes on how to fight religious discrimination of all kinds?”
Zeldin accepted the invitation and urged her to sign on to his resolution, saying it would be a “step in the right direction.”
But as of Monday, nearly two weeks after the Twitter exchange, the lawmakers are still working on a date for the meeting.
Scott Wong contributed.