United States Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesotan among the first Muslim women in Congress, has long been critical of the way Israel’s government runs things.
In fact, a lot of liberal Democrats are. She and others have endorsed a measure called the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement -- BDS -- which is supposed to economically pressure the Israeli government into changing the way it treats Palestinians.
This has gotten a lot of flack from Republicans, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He proposed Democratic leaders sanction Omar and fellow Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib, calling their stances anti-Semitic. McCarthy himself has been accused of anti-Semitism in his tweets about prominent Jewish men allegedly attempting to “buy” elections.
But on Sunday, Omar retweeted a comment about McCarthy from journalist Glenn Greenwald, which said it was “stunning” the amount of time “US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
Omar retweeted with the added comment with a quote from Puff Daddy: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”
The reaction was swift and critical. Twitter users joined McCarthy in accusing Omar of anti-Semitism -- notably just a few weeks after she’d apologized for another tweet she’d posted in 2012, which accused Israel of having “hypnotized” the world.
One critic, Batya Ungar-Sargon, tweeted: “Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.”
Omar’s response: “AIPAC!” which stands for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major pro-Israel lobbying group.
To which Ungar-Sargon responded: “Please learn how to talk about Jews in a non-anti-Semitic way. Sincerely, American Jews.”
Politicians from both sides of the aisle -- including House Democrats Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi -- were quick to condemn Omar's comments.
“Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted, and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception,” Pelosi and other House Democrats said in a statement issued Monday. The statement called on Omar to apologize, maintaining that “legitimate” criticism of Israel’s policies is “protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate,” but that Omar’s comments were “prejudicial” and “deeply offensive.”
That same day, Omar did apologize.
“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,” she said in a statement. She said she never intended to offend her 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,” she said. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
But she still maintained that lobbyists have a “problematic role” in politics, “whether it be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil fuel industry.”
Not everyone has been critical of Omar’s comments. The Minnesotan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations agreed on Monday that “anti-Semitism is real,” but said that “politicians must stop disingenuously using accusations of anti-Semitism to silence legitimate criticism of a foreign nation’s discriminatory policies.”
“We applaud Rep. Ilhan Omar, and others, for courageously speaking the truth about the Israeli government’s policies of racial, religious, and ethnic segregation against Christian and Muslim Palestinians, among others,” the organization’s statement said. “Criticizing Israeli government policies – and the lobby groups which advocate for those policies on Capitol Hill… is not anti-Semitic, just as criticizing Saudi government policies… is not Islamophobic.”
Here’s Omar’s statement in its entirety:
Listening and learning, but standing strong ���� pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019