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February 11, 2019 3:04 pm

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar Faces Renewed Antisemitism Allegations After AIPAC Tweet

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

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Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at an event for Hillary Clinton in 2016. Photo: Lorie Shaull via Wikicommons.

Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is facing widespread criticism after insinuating on Sunday that AIPAC bought political support for Israel with donations to legislators.

Omar was responding to tweet by journalist Glenn Greenwald, in which he referenced a statement by Republican House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy that “action” should be taken against Omar and fellow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for their anti-Israel views.

“GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel,” Greenwald tweeted. “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”

Replying to Greenwald, Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” — with “Benjamins” being slang for $100 bills.

Batya Unger-Sargon — the opinion editor of The Forward — pointed out that Omar’s tweet had antisemitic connotations.

“Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess,” tweeted Sargon.

Omar responded to Sargon’s query with one word: “AIPAC!” — referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. AIPAC does not give money to political candidates or sitting officials.

AIPAC later tweeted, “We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests. We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work.”

Jonathan Greenblatt — head of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) — also weighed in, tweeting, “Words matter Rep. @IlhanMN. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the US and abroad. The use of this tired anti-Semitic trope about Jews and money is inappropriate and upsetting.”

“As Americans and Jews, we expect our politicians to condemn bigotry, not fuel it,” he added.

In an official ADL statement, Greenblatt said, “As the people’s House, the House of Representatives must not tolerate any bigotry against any community in our nation. We call on the House leadership to take immediate action, so that the message is clear: anti-Semitism will not be tolerated.”

David Harris — CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) — responded to Omar as well, tweeting, “#Antisemitism is Antisemitism. Whether coming from the left or the right, it’s equally vile.”

“Cong. @IlhanMN invokes classic Antisemitic themes,” he charged. “No two ways about it. She clearly knows what she’s doing. Anti-Semites have a new voice.”

“How will her party & Minnesotans respond?” Harris asked.

Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), called Omar’s statements “pure, unadulterated, evil, frighteningly dangerous anti-Semitism.”

The ZOA, he said, “calls on House Democrat leadership to … immediately remove Rep. Omar from her committee assignments.” Omar sits on the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Mark Mellman, president and CEO of the new Democratic Majority for Israel group issued a statement saying, “Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s recent statement reveals both woeful ignorance and flagrant bigotry.”

“By suggesting pro-Israel views are paid for, Congresswoman Omar has driven headlong into the gutter, slandering America’s pro-Israel community and the vast majority of her colleagues of both parties, in the House and the Senate, who back a strong U.S.-Israel relationship,” Mellman added.

“Just weeks ago, Congresswoman Omar apologized for another anti-Semitic statement she made,” he noted. “That she is trafficking in unabashedly anti-Semitic rhetoric again so quickly indicates that either her apology was insincere or that this bigotry is a deeply ingrained element of her thinking, or both.”

“Congresswoman Omar’s hateful, hurtful and harmful slander is an embarrassment to her, to the Democratic party and to the United States Congress,” Mellman said, and called on Omar to apologize.

“She owes her colleagues, our party and our country an apology, and even more important, sincere repentance,” he concluded.

Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) Executive Director Matt Brooks expressed a similar sentiment, saying, “Rep. Omar’s suggestion that congressional support for Israel is about money brings a vile anti-Semitic stereotype into the partisan politics of our day.”

“Omar says she opposes Israel, not Jews, but her use of anti-Semitic tropes in her anti-Israel comments plainly shows where she stands. This language and this hatred have no place in the halls of the US Congress,” he added.

“We call on the Democratic House leadership to strip Rep. Omar of her seat on the prestigious and crucially important House Foreign Affairs Committee,” Brooks said. “Rep. Omar has demonstrated her unfitness for a seat on the committee that considers legislation regarding US policy toward Israel and the Middle East.”

The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) tweeted, “Rep. Ilhan Omar’s decision to publicly repeat an anti-Semitic trope suggesting that Jewish money is directly correlated with political influence is deeply offensive and painful.”

“At a time when anti-Semitism is increasing at home and abroad, it is vital that members of Congress speak out against bigotry in all its forms, and not repeat hateful conspiracy theories and tropes targeting any one religious or ethnic group,” the JDCA added. “We have repeatedly condemned Donald Trump and other Republicans for condoning and encouraging anti-Semitism, as well as other forms of discrimination, and we hold all public officials to the same standard.”

It continued: “The leadership of the Democratic party is firmly pro-Israel because they understand that the United States and Israel share strategic interests and values, and that support of the U.S.-Israel relationship is shared by the American people. That is why an overwhelming majority in both parties and chambers of Congress have been steadfast in their support of Israel — because it’s a view shared by their constituents. The inability of Rep. Omar to recognize this reality and her choice to repeat an anti-Semitic trope underscores that she is completely out of step with the Democratic party on this issue.”

The JDCA encouraged Omar to “apologize to the Jewish community for her painful words, and to join us in a candid conversation about these critically important matters.”

Replying to a tweeter sympathetic to Omar, former first daughter Chelsea Clinton wrote, “I will reach out to [Omar] tomorrow. I also think we have to call out anti-Semitic language and tropes on all sides, particularly in our elected officials and particularly now.”

Democratic Congressman Max Rose of New York condemned Omar, saying, “When someone uses hateful and offensive tropes against people of any faith, I will not be silent.”

“Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself,” he added. “Implying that Americans support Israel because of money alone is offensive enough. But go a step further, and retweet someone declaring their pain at her sentiment is truly unacceptable.”

“At a time when anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise, our leaders should not be invoking hurtful stereotypes and caricatures of Jewish people to dismiss those who support Israel. In the Democratic Party — and in the United States of America — we celebrate the diversity of our people, and the Gods we pray to, as a strength,” he concluded. “The Congresswoman’s statements do not live up to that cherished ideal.”

Another New York Democratic congressman, Jerry Nadler, called Omar’s remarks “deeply disappointing and disturbing,” as well as “hurtful and offensive.”

Saying that debate over political organizations was legitimate, Nadler nonetheless stated, “There is an expectation of leaders … 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.”

According to Politico, Democratic Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Elaine Luria of Virginia were circulating a letter addressed to their party’s leadership denouncing “recent rhetoric from certain members within our Caucus, including just last night, that has disparaged us and called into question our loyalty to our nation.”

“We urge you to join us in calling on each member of our Caucus to unite against anti-Semitism and hateful tropes and stereotypes,” the letter added.

“We must speak out when any Member — Democrat or Republican — uses harmful tropes and stereotypes, levels accusations of dual loyalty, or makes reckless statements like those yesterday,” it said.

Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida compared Omar’s remarks to a notorious piece of antisemitic literature, tweeting, “One of the oldest Anti-Semitic conspiracies is about Jewish money as an instrument of global domination.”

“See the fake anti-Semitic ‘Protocols of Zion,’” he added. “She might as well have tweeted: ‘IN OUR HANDS IS THE GREATEST POWER OF OUR DAY—GOLD.’”

Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel posted a lengthy thread on Omar’s tweets, saying, “@IlhanMN’s outrageous comments equating politicians’ support for Israel with being bought off by American Jewish money are a vile anti-Semitic trope. They need to be condemned by all in our party.”

Saying that “some of us” had hoped to be able to work with Omar, Shapiro wrote, “These efforts failed. Her support for BDS is apparently her essence: blaming Israel alone for the conflict, absolving Palestinians of all responsibility, delegitimizing Israel’s very existence, &accusing its supporters of shallow motives &manipulation by Jewish money.”

Shapiro predicted that Omar would alienate most possible supporters as a result of her remarks, stating, “She’ll have much of DC, many in her own party, much of the Jewish community, &plenty of others turning against her.”

“She did that,” he added. “She chose that. She had little influence on Dem party positions on Israel/Palestine before. Thankfully, now she’ll have even less.”

Former Israeli Knesset member Einat Wilf connected Omar’s statements to the problem of Muslim antisemitism.

“There has to be a point when we can speak honestly about Islamic Jew hatred, that like its Christian counterpart, predates Zionism and Israel (and in fact plays a major role in the ongoing opposition to Jewish self determination in the region),” she said. “Ilhan Omar @IlhanMN is not alone.”

Sunday’s tweets were only the latest instance of Omar sparking controversy with comments about Israel and Jews. In November 2012, during a war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, she tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”

In a recent interview on CNN, Omar said, “I don’t know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza war and I am clearly speaking about the way that the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”

Shortly after, New York Times opinion editor Bari Weiss wrote a lengthy criticism of Omar’s remarks, saying, “The conspiracy theory of the Jew as the hypnotic conspirator, the duplicitous manipulator, the sinister puppeteer is one with ancient roots and a bloody history.”

Omar finally appeared apologized for her 2012 tweet, responding to Weiss, “In all sincerity, it was after my CNN interview that I heard from Jewish orgs. that my use of the word ‘Hypnotize’ and the ugly sentiment it holds was offensive.”

“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,” she added.

In a CNN interview last week, Omar said of the heat she has taken over her anti-Israel positions, “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.”

“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,” she asserted, in an apparent reference to Israel.

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