Ilhan Omar: US congresswoman issues apology for ‘antisemitic’ tweet about pro-Israel group

Samuel Osborne

A newly elected US congresswoman accused of employing an antisemitic trope about money has “unequivocally” apologised after an avalanche of criticism and a rebuke from the highest levels of her own party.

Ilhan Omar, a Democrat, had tweeted about her belief the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby group, was paying US politicians to support Israel.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote, using slang about $100 notes. Asked who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Ms Omar responded, “AIPAC!”

Her comments were criticised by both Republicans and Democrats, with house speaker Nancy Pelosi condeming her remarks and calling for an apology.

“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” Ms Pelosi said in a statement issued by her office and signed by other Democratic leaders. “But Congresswoman Omar’s use of antisemitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.”

Republicans called on Democrats to strip Ms Omar of her seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, but its chairman, Eliot Engel, stopped just short of that. Although he did not name Omar, he left little doubt his statement was a response to her tweets: “It’s shocking to hear a member of congress invoke the antisemitic trope of ‘Jewish money,’” he said.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said on Twitter: “Rep Omar’s use of antisemitic stereotype was offensive and irresponsible.”

Ms Omar released a statement in which she acknowledged the backlash and apologised.

“Antisemitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of antisemitic tropes,” she said.

“My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole,” she said, adding that she “unequivocally” apologised.

President Donald Trump later said Ms Omar’s apology fell short and she “should be ashamed of herself” for the tweets.

“I think it was a terrible statement, and I don’t think her apology was adequate,” he said. Asked what she should have said, Mr Trump replied: “She knows what to say.”

AIPAC is a nonprofit organisation that works to influence US policy toward Israel. While it is barred from directly donating to candidates, it encourages its more than 100,000 members to do so and to be politically active.

The organisation responded on Sunday night: “We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests. We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work.”

It is not the first time Ms Omar, who is one of just two Muslim women to have ever been elected to congress, has been accused of antisemitism.

She supports an economic campaign known as “boycott, divestment and sanctions” that is aimed at Israel, but insists her rejection of the Israeli government refers to its stance towards Palestinians and is not directed at the Jewish people.

She expressed regret for tweeting to say Israel had “hypnotised the world” in 2012, which was compared to a term once used by the Nazis.

“It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy in disavowing the antisemitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive,” she tweeted last month.