Rep. Ilhan Omar, a freshman Minnesota Democrat and progressive star, was publicly rebuked on Monday by House Democratic leadership for suggesting that Congressional support for Israel is bought and paid for by lobbyists, playing on old stereotypes of Jews as money-grubbing influence-peddlers.
“Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and other leadership officials. “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”
The joint remarks came in response to a series of tweets on Sunday night where Omar suggested that American politicians’ strong support of Israel, and their intolerance for criticism of the Jewish state, was thanks to campaign contributions from the pro-Israel lobby, chiefly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “It’s all about the Benjamins,” tweeted Omar.
By Monday afternoon, Omar issued an apology.
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 wrote in a statement posted on her Twitter feed. "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."
She added, “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.”
The rare joint rebuke was preceded by strong condemnations by some of Congress’ top Jewish Democrats. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee on which Omar sits, said on Monday it was “shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money.’”Engel said he expects members of the committee to debate policy, not question each other’s motives.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said that Omar’s comments were disturbing and offensive, and trafficked in old anti-Semitic tropes.
“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,” Nadler said. “Rep. Omar failed that test of leadership with these comments.”
Prior to leadership’s statement, prominent anti-racist advocacy groups had put pressure on top Democrats to step up their responses to Omar’s comments. The Anti-Defamation League called on them to “take action” in response, but did not specify what kind.
Omar’s history of rhetoric around Israel has dogged her since arriving in Congress in January. In a 2012 tweet, sent during an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strp, Omar claimed Israel had “hypnotized” the world. In January, a contrite Omar acknowledged that tweet had used an “anti-Semitic trope.”
Republicans have hammered Omar relentlessly as they seek to turn her into Democrats’ version of Rep. Steve King, the Iowa Republican who was punished by GOP leaders last month for his long history of racist rhetoric by removing all his committee assignments.