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Muslim congresswoman Omar apologizes after Democratic leaders criticize her for ‘anti-Semitic comments’

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

(WASHINGTON) — In an extraordinary rebuke, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders on Monday called on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the first Muslim members of Congress, to apologize for comments she made on Twitter that they called “anti-Semitic.”

“Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception,” Pelosi said in a statement, joined by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark.

“We are and will always be strong supporters of Israel in Congress because we understand that our support is based on shared values and strategic interests. Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” the statement continued.

“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,” they said. “As Democrats and as Americans, the entire Congress must be fully engaged in denouncing and rejecting all forms of hatred, racism, prejudice and discrimination wherever they are encountered,” the statement reads.

Pelosi also tweeted that she had spoken with Omar, saying “Congresswoman Omar and I agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.”

In our conversation today, Congresswoman Omar and I agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms. https://t.co/UpZA3DNgQs pic.twitter.com/1Z6rH65e3M

— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) February 11, 2019

Shortly afterward, Omar tweeted, in part, that “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 about criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. That is why I unequivocally apologize.”

Listening and learning, but standing strong ???????? pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019

Omar, of Minnesota, has previously been accused by Republicans of anti-Semitism for her comments about Israel, and her weekend comments caused a growing number of Democrats to join in criticizing her social media posts.

On Sunday, Omar replied to a Twitter message from journalist Glenn Greenwald by suggesting that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, and other members of Congress, support Israel because they get campaign donations from pro-Israel groups and individuals.

It’s all about the Benjamins baby ???? https://t.co/KatcXJnZLV

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 10, 2019

In the tweet, Omar appeared to be using a common way of referring to $100 bills – which feature Benjamin Franklin — or even playing off a line from “It’s All About the Benjamins,” a 1997 song from rapper Puff Daddy featuring the Notorious B.I.G., Lil’ Kim and the Lox.

She also tweeted “AIPAC! – a clear reference to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the prominent advocacy organization that has spent millions lobbying for pro-Israel legislation and sponsor trips to Israel for members of Congress. In 2018, AIPAC spent a total of $3.5 million on lobbying, including more than $883,000 spent just in the last three months of 2018.

AIPAC! https://t.co/UdzaFUEfrh

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019

On Sunday night, Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., a Jewish freshman congressman, called Omar’s comments “deeply hurtful to Jews.”

Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself. pic.twitter.com/u3f2JHESFA

— Max Rose (@MaxRose4NY) February 11, 2019

On Monday, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called Omar’s comments “deeply hurtful and offensive,” while Reps. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Elaine Luria, D-Va., who are Jewish, began circulating a letter calling on Democratic leaders to take “swift action” to condemn the comments.

“We cannot remain silent in the face of hateful speech or actions,” they wrote in the letter, which doesn’t mention Omar by name but references “recent rhetoric from certain members within our Caucus.” “That is why we have an obligation to speak out against antisemitism and to vigorously confront those who traffic in these harmful tropes and smears.”

On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish organization that combats antisemitism around the world, also pushed Democratic leaders to take action after Omar’s comments.

Omar, along with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., another Muslim woman and freshman Democrat, have been outspoken critics of Israel and the country’s treatment of Palestinians, articulating a growing sentiment among progressives that has put them at odds with longstanding American foreign policy consensus on Israel and deep bipartisan support for Israel in Washington and on Capitol Hill.

Republicans, who have been quick to criticize the two Democratic women, have also grappled with charges of anti-Semitism.

President Donald Trump was accused of anti-Semitism during the 2016 presidential campaign after he retweeted an image of Hillary Clinton and a six-pointed star similar to a Jewish star that read “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” superimposed on a graphic of money. The president eventually deleted the image and replaced it with a similar graphic without the star.

And ahead of the midterm elections, McCarthy, then the majority leader of the House, posted and subsequently deleted a tweet that said Republicans “cannot allow” George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer – three Jewish Democratic billionaire donors – to “buy” the election.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the Democratic chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on which Omar serves, also criticized her comments in a statement Monday but made no mention of removing her assignment.

“I fully expect that when we disagree on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we will debate policy on the merits and never question members’ motives or resort to personal attacks,” he wrote. “Criticism of American policy toward any country is fair game, but this must be done on policy grounds.”

House Minority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise, House GOP Conference Chair Rep. Liz Cheney, among others, have called for Omar to be taken off the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Omar appeared to defend her comments on Twitter later Sunday night in a response to a message from Chelsea Clinton, former President Bill Clinton’s daughter.

???????? 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. ???????? https://t.co/EGA9NQfBCi

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019

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