WASHINGTON (CN) – A new Democrat in Congress drew condemnation from fellow lawmakers Monday after her remarks criticizing support of Israel were seen by some as dog-whistle politics.
“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,” House Democratic leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said in a statement. “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.”
A Minnesota Democrat who is among the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, Representative Ilhan Omar took the spotlight this weekend after House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy called out her reputation for making remarks considered offensive against Israel.
When journalist Glenn Greenwald called McCarthy’s attack “stunning” on Sunday, Omar retweeted the post and appended the chorus of 1997 hip-hop hit, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”
This tweet prompted a query from Batya Ungar-Sargon, an opinion editor at Forward, about who she thought was using money to tilt U.S. politicians in favor of Israel.
“AIPAC!” Omar responded, using an abbreviation for pro-Israel lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement that Omar’s comments call on old anti-Semitic tropes that “wealthy Jews are controlling the government.” The organization, which was created to fight against anti-Semitism in the United States, called on House Leadership to condemn Omar’s remarks.
“Unfortunately, making insensitive statements toward the Jewish community is not new for Rep. Omar,” Greenblatt said in the statement. “These tweets are part of a disturbing pattern of behavior that must end. The congresswoman needs to understand that these comments promote dangerous stereotypes and are hurtful to her Jewish constituents and Jewish-Americans throughout the country.”
Omar apologized for her comments Monday afternoon, but lamented the “problematic role of lobbyists” in U.S. politics.
“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,” Omar said in a statement. “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.”
Ranking at 151st on the list of highest-spending lobbying groups, AIPAC spent $3.5 million on lobbying efforts in 2018, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The group separately contributed $27,000 to candidates, leadership PACs and parties in 2018, making it the 5,558th biggest contributor to candidates, according to CRP.
Representative Jerry Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement Monday that Omar’s comments were “deeply hurtful and offensive.”
The ADL said American politicians broadly support Israel not because of money from pro-Israel organizations, but because the country is a “strong American ally in a strategically important region.”
An immigrant from Somalia, Omar drew controversy in 2012 when she said Israel had “hypnotized the world.” Omar has since apologized for the 2012 tweet, saying she was unaware of the context surrounding her choice of the word “hypnotized.”
House Republican Leader McCarthy is believed to have been alluding to this controversy when he brought up Omar over the weekend.
McCarthy was making the argument that remarks like those by Omar could be considered “more” offensive than the recent assertion by Iowa Republican Steve King that the term “white supremacist” is not offensive. King, who has long been associated with white supremacists, has not apologized.