William Cummings USA TODAY
Published 8:36 PM EST Feb 11, 2019
WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump on Monday blasted freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar for a tweet condemned by Democratic House leaders as “anti-Semitic” for asserting that lobbyists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are funding her critics.
“I think she should be ashamed of herself,” Trump told reporters on Air Force One as he flew to El Paso, Texas, for his first political rally of the year. “I think it was a terrible statement. And I don’t think her apology was adequate.”
Omar “unequivocally” apologized hours earlier for the tweet.
“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,” she said in a statement.
“That is why I unequivocally apologize,” she said.
The trouble for the Minnesota Democrat began when The Intercept’s Glenn Greenwald tweeted a link to a Haaretz article that said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is considering “action” against Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for the two new Muslim members of Congress’ criticisms of Israel.
McCarthy said they deserved at least as much of a reprimand as was delivered to Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, for his lamentation that “white supremacy” is out of fashion. King’s remarks were condemned in a House resolution and he was stripped of his committee posts.
“It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans,” Greenwald tweeted.
“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted in reply. “Benjamins” refers to $100 bills, on which Benjamin Franklin is depicted.
That tweet prompted Forward columnist Batya Ungar-Sargon to reply that she “would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess.”
“AIPAC!” Omar tweeted in response.
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That tweet opened a chorus of bipartisan condemnation.
“Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception,” read a joint statement from Democratic leadership: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark.
“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share. 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.
Pelosi said she met with Omar on Monday and that Omar “agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.”
Still, Omar retweeted several posts that defended her remarks, including one from Greenwald implying that Islamophobia was behind the charges of anti-Semitism. Another implied that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson was the one funding McCarthy’s outrage on behalf of Israel.
“Accurately describing how the Israel lobby works is not anti-semitism,” read another post that Omar retweeted.
The statement from the Democratic House leadership did not mention any punishment for Omar, who sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team have made clear there are no consequences for the anti-Semites in their caucus,” said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams.
“Please learn how to talk about Jews in a non-anti-Semitic way. Sincerely, American Jews,” Ungar-Sargon said in a tweet linking to her article explaining that she believes Omar’s tweet plays into old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews controlling world finance.
Chelsea Clinton “co-signed” Ungar-Sargon’s tweet as “an American.”
“We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism,” Clinton said.
After pushback from other Twitter users, Clinton vowed to meet with Omar on Monday to discuss the matter further. Omar accepted in a tweet, saying, “We must call out smears from the GOP and their allies. And I believe we can do that without criticizing people for their faith.”
So far, it does not appear the women have set an official time and place for the meeting.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement that Omar’s “choice of words” was “deeply disappointing and disturbing.” He said the congresswoman appeared to “traffic in old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.”
Nadler said Omar’s words were particularly “hurtful and offensive” in light of a tweet Omar posted in 2012 in which she said, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
“Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself,” tweeted Rep. Max Rose, a fellow freshman Democrat from New York, along with a statement.
“Anti-Semitic tropes have no place in the halls of Congress. It is dangerous for Democrat leadership to stay silent on this reckless language,” McCarthy said.
He added that one of his “greatest honors is leading new members on a bipartisan trip to Israel to showcase the shared values and unbreakable bond between our countries.”
AIPAC – which spent about $3.5 million on lobbying efforts in 2018, according to OpenSecrets – sponsors an annual congressional trip to Israel. The organization also responded to Omar with a tweet.
“We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship,” the group said on its official Twitter account. “We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work.”
Omar, the first Somali-American elected to Congress, and Tlaib and have expressed support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which claims that “Israel has denied Palestinians their fundamental rights.” It aims to use economic pressure to force Israel to end its “regime of settler colonialism, apartheid and occupation over the Palestinian people.”
“Israel is an ally of the United States and I think as much as you would look to your neighbor to your friends to live out the same values as you are, we want to make sure that our allies are living out the same values that we push for here,” Omar told CNN last week.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations defended Omar and Tlaib in a statement on Monday.
“Anti-Semitism is real. It should not be used disingenuously as a tool to silence legitimate criticism of a foreign nation’s discriminatory policies. CAIR applauds Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for their courage in speaking the truth about Israel’s racial, religious and ethnic segregation,” CAIR said. “Agenda-driven groups – like AIPAC – have for decades enabled that segregation and the resulting denial of human rights for Christian and Muslim Palestinians.”
Less than a week after taking office, Tlaib sparked outrage in a tweet criticizing the backers of anti-BDS legislation for forgetting “what country they represent.”
More: Why Muslim women hope this year’s historic election helps curb the discrimination they face
Omar’s support for the BDS movement drove McCarthy to object to Pelosi’s placement of Omar on the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January.
“Nancy Pelosi said in 2017 that Congress ‘must’ oppose the BDS movement against Israel. Chuck Schumer went even further, calling BDS ‘anti-Semitism’ and ‘profoundly biased.’ I would love to know what changed, because Democratic leaders just promoted a pro-BDS Democrat to a key committee that deals with the State of Israel,” McCarthy said in a statement last month.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in Congress and certainly not on the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” he said.
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