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Rep. Omar apologizes for tweets on AIPAC’s influence

In this Feb. 5, 2019, photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., left, joined at right by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listens to President Trump's State of the Union speech at the Capitol in Washington. A tweet by Omar sparked a bipartisan backlash, with some accusing her of being anti-Semitic. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar “unequivocally” apologized Monday (Feb. 11) for tweets about the influence in Congress of an American organization that supports Israel. The tweets had drawn bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The Minnesota congresswoman said she had no intention offending anyone, including Jewish Americans, by suggesting that members of Congress are paid by Israel’s powerful allies to support the Jewish state.

“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 about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

In a pair of tweets over the weekend, Omar criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, saying, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” invoking slang about $100 bills.

Pelosi on Monday insisted Omar immediately apologize.

“Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” Pelosi said in a statement issued by her office and signed by other Democratic leaders after a bipartisan backlash against Omar’s tweets. “We condemn these remarks, and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”

The statement marks Pelosi’s most stern public rebuke of a freshman representative who helped deliver the Democratic House majority and was the latest exposure of an increasingly tense split among Democrats over U.S.-Israeli policy ahead of the 2020 elections.

Backed by other House leaders and a pair of powerful House chairmen, Pelosi’s extraordinary rebuke was the latest chapter in the education of the most famous stars in the celebrity-studded freshman class of lawmakers. None of the Democratic presidential hopefuls has weighed in publicly as the party’s House leaders chastised Omar.

Omar is one of two Muslim women to serve in Congress. Over the weekend, she responded to a tweet that quoted House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging punishment for Omar’s criticism of Israel. In her response, Omar wrote, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”

Asked on Twitter who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded: “AIPAC!”

AIPAC is a nonprofit organization that works to influence U.S. policy toward Israel. While it is barred from directly donating to candidates, it encourages its more than 100,000 members to do so and to be politically active.

One way the organization has made a mark on Congress is through expense-paid travel junkets to Israel, which are paid for by an affiliated nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors.

The popular weeklong excursions for members of Congress, their families and some senior staff can cost upward of $12,000 per person and are intended to “educate political leaders and influencers about the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship through firsthand experiences.”

The nonprofit responded Sunday night: “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.”

Omar supports a movement known as BDS, for “boycott, divestment and sanctions” aimed at Israel. And it’s not the first time she’s fought accusations of anti-Semitism. She insists her rejection of the Israeli government refers to its stance toward Palestinians and is not directed at Jewish people.

Omar has expressed regret for tweeting in 2012: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” She said the statement came in the context of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy in disavowing the anti-Semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive,” she tweeted last month.

The backlash against this new round of Omar’s remarks was swift and bipartisan.

“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,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York said in a statement. “Rep. Omar failed that test of leadership with these comments.”

Republicans called on Democrats to strip Omar of her seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, but Chairman Eliot Engel stopped just short of that. He said in a statement that he expects his committee members to discuss policies on merits. And though he did not name Omar, he left little doubt that his statement was in response to her tweets.

“It’s shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money,'” Engel said.

The controversy over Omar’s remarks stretched beyond Capitol Hill to the crowded Democratic presidential race.

Less than a week earlier, all but one high-profile Democratic senator eyeing the White House in 2020 voted against a Middle East policy measure that included a provision cracking down on BDS activism against the Israeli government.

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar supported the Middle East bill, while her potential presidential rivals — Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Sherrod Brown of Ohio — all opposed it.

Several of those Democrats had raised concerns that the bill’s bid to rein in anti-Israel boycott efforts risked violating the constitutional rights of activists, although all the senators are opposed to the Palestinian-led push itself.

Among the yellow notes posted on Omar’s office nameplate on Capitol Hill Monday was one that read, “Mazel Tov.”

(Associated Press writers Elana Schor and Brian Slodysko and photographer Andrew Harnik contributed to this report.)

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Laurie Kellman

26 Comments

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  • Here’s the top comment in a New York Times article which precisely echoes my comment in the other RNS article about this story:

    Matt
    Seattle, WA

    As someone who is both a Democrat and Jewish, I am very disappointed in the actions of Pelosi and the Democratic leadership.

    It’s a well-known fact that AIPAC has a iron grip on Congress, which is why the US Government supports the government of Israel no matter what it does. All Congresswoman Omar did was point out that very uncomfortable truth.

    Let’s not forget, many American Jews do NOT support the current government of Israel or its policies, and that AIPAC does not represent the views of many American Jews.

  • I’m always curious as to why American
    Jews hate Israel. Maybe Matt from Seattle can explain why. I bet the average Israeli is glad AIPAC does not represent the views of many American Jews…. Israel is safer that way.
    Maybe Matt from Seattle should live in Israel for a while; then maybe he would understand why AIPAC seeks American support.

  • American Jews don’t hate Israel – they hate Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party who are currently running Israel. But you could speak just as easily of the Jews living in Israel who likewise oppose Netanyahu. As usual, you generalize people too much.

  • Because many US and Israeli Jews, religious and secular, view him and his family as corrupt. It has nothing to do with love or hate of Israel.

  • American Jews and Israeli Jews have very little in common.

    Israeli Jews live in an existential crisis 24/7. Israel was created in war, sustained in war, and is surrounded by people who would like nothing better than payback and extermination and spend billions and billions every year trying to get the edge to accomplish it.

    American Jews have it made, live in relative ease, and largely identify with a liberal secular agenda, i.e., the Democratic Party.

    American Jews are less religious than the general public:

    http://www{DOT}pewforum.org/2013/10/01/chapter-4-religious-beliefs-and-practices/

    and – if they attend synagogue at all – do so at the High Holy Days the way former Christians put up a Christmas tree.

    Israeli Jews are both more observant and more believing than their American cousins:

    http://www{DOT}pewforum.org/2016/03/08/jewish-beliefs-and-practices/

    There is a gap between the two communities and it is growing rapidly.

    https://www{DOT}jewishdatabank.org/databank/search-results/study/1028

  • The CAIR PAC supports Muslim candidates seeking office. They are big contributors to Omar’s campaign.

  • Oh; interesting.
    So she doesn’t like Jewish PAC’s; but she’s all in on Muslim ones.
    Let’s just call her what she is – an alt-left, extremist who is an anti-Semite.

  • Regrettable. Distracting. Unfortunate. Counter-productive. Unnecessary. Unfocused.

    These are just a few words which come to mind about things that should not be said in the first place—removing any need to apologize when one’s influence would have been better spent on something true and important instead.

  • It’s easy to say it and then apologize afterward – overused political ploy. She seconded the abuse with a comment accusing the particular group. I would say she was more embarrassed and sorry because someone called her up on it.
    Secondly, you expect a muslim to speak well of a Jew?

    “One way the organization has made a mark on Congress is through expense-paid travel junkets to Israel, which are paid for by an affiliated nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors.” That’s slander guys

    ” She insists her rejection of the Israeli government refers to its stance toward Palestinians and is not directed at Jewish people.” Yes, let’s forget she has slandered a Jewish organization. She cannot be anti-semetic! (eye roll)

    ““Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” Another example of her impartiality. (getting dizzy from rolling my eyes)

  • Hold on…..hold on,…..I am a Democrat and am a resident of Christmas Land. I think she told the truth and the truth needs to be told…..holds as much water as Matt’s comment

  • From Hipshot:

    “American Muslims agree to leave the United States in a one-for-one exchange for Jews from Israel. Dismantle Israel.
    Problem solved!” (And the “Promised Land”? All myth!!)

  • The “apology” appears not to have sold well in the homeland:

    http://www{DOT}startribune.com/rep-ilhan-omar-ignites-yet-another-tweetstorm/505682442/

    I smell a one-term representative.

  • Less than 50% of Israeli Jews practice the faith. Tel Aviv, Israel’s largest city, doesn’t even observe the Sabbath.

  • It seems everything to do with Israel is sacrosanct. Even AIPAC is beyond criticism. If this is not gagging most of the American politicians what is ? God in Christian America do not seem to be given such a privilege !

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