Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota apologized Monday after receiving intense backlash from members of her own party for comments on Israel and Jews that were widely denounced as anti-Semitic.
“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. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole,” Omar said in a statement Monday. “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.”
Listening and learning, but standing strong 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
On Sunday night, Omar, one of the two first Muslim women elected to the House last November, tweeted references to Israel that many in her own party deemed unacceptable.
In response to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy raising the possibility of punishing her and another Democrat for criticizing Israel, Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” She also tweeted “AIPAC!” in response to a different tweet asking whom she believes is paying Americans to be pro-Israel, referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a major pro-Israel lobbying group.
Omar’s tweets drew a rebuke from Democratic House leaders, who called on her to apologize on Monday.
“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other members of the Democratic leadership said in a statement. “But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”
Pelosi tweeted she had spoken to Omar on Monday, and said the two “agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.”
Omar’s tweets were not the first time she had made questionable comments concerning Jews. In 2012, before she was in Congress, Omar said Israel was “hypnotizing” the world, a comment for which she has since apologized.
Members of Omar’s own party began calling her out publicly for her comments on Sunday night.
Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer and Elaine Luria called on House leadership to speak out against Omar’s comments in a letter. “We hope that our caucus will take swift action to address these issues in the coming days by reiterating our rejection of anti-Semitism and our continued support for the state of Israel,” the letter read.
“It is deeply disappointing and disturbing to hear Representative Ilhan Omar’s (MN) choice of words in her exchange with a journalist yesterday, wherein she appears to traffic in old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler said in a lengthy statement.
“For nearly two weeks, Rep. @IlhanMN has avoided meeting with me to discuss why anti-Semitic tropes like these are hurtful to so many Americans. There is absolutely no place for this rhetoric in Congress — or anywhere,” New Jersey Democrat Rep. Josh Gottheimer tweeted.
“Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself,” New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose tweeted along with a statement.
Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself. pic.twitter.com/u3f2JHESFA
— Max Rose (@MaxRose4NY) February 11, 2019
Before apologizing Monday, Omar had doubled down on her comments Sunday night, calling criticisms a smear from the other party.
When Chelsea Clinton appeared to criticize her comments Monday, Omar tweeted, “Chelsea – I would be happy to talk. We must call out smears from the GOP and their allies. And I believe we can do that without criticizing people for their faith. I look forward to building an inclusive movement for justice with you.”