Congresswoman Ilhan Omar ‘Unequivocally Apologizes’ for Offensive AIPAC Tweet, Yet Maintains Criticism of Lobbyists
Freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN) attempted to head off a storm of criticism on Monday with a statement saying she was “listening and learning, but standing strong” following the furor over her tweets the previous day that were widely slammed as antisemitic.
While Omar said that she “unequivocally apologized” for causing offense, she also appeared to stick by her earlier false allegation that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) exercises an outsize influence in national politics because of its financial clout — a claim that echoes modern antisemitic conspiracy theories about Jewish economic and political power. Omar claimed she was learning about “antisemitic tropes,” but her statement did not connect her study of the problem with the sentiments expressed in her tweet.
Listening and learning, but standing strong 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
Omar’s statement on Monday came shortly after top Democrats called her Sunday tweets “antisemitic.”
“Congresswoman Omar’s use of antisemitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and other party leaders said in a statement. “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.“
The latest controversy surrounding Omar began on Sunday when she responded to a 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!”
However, 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) — 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.
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.
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 antisemitic stereotype into the partisan politics of our day.”
The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) tweeted, “Rep. Ilhan Omar’s decision to publicly repeat an antisemitic trope suggesting that Jewish money is directly correlated with political influence is deeply offensive and painful.”
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.”