Trump says Ilhan Omar should resign over Israel comments: 'Anti-semitism has no place in Congress'

Sarah Harvard

President Donald Trump has condemned Representative Ilhan Omar for her tweet criticising the Israeli lobby, and called on her to resign.

“I think she should either resign from congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee," Mr Trump said from the Oval Office on Tuesday.

The Minnesota Democrat prompted swift backlash from both Democrats and Republicans on Sunday evening when she retweeted journalist Glenn Greenwald's story about House Minority Leader, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, urging "action" towards Ms Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib—both of whom are Muslim women—over their criticism of the Israeli government.

Ms Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected into Congress, captioned her retweet with the following text: "It's all about the Benjamins baby."

The Somali-American lawmaker's comment was met outrage from conservative and centrist politicians, commentators and journalists, who accused her of anti-semitism.

When asked who she believes is “paying American politicians to be pro-Israel,” Ms Omar replied “AIPAC!”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is one of the most influential pro-Israel lobbying groups. As Quartz reported, the group has been shelling out millions of dollars into US politics in the past 20 years. According to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan nonprofit group tracking spending and lobbying in American politics, reported that AIPAC has spent about $3.5m in pro-Israeli lobbying in the 2018 fiscal year. Some of their lobbying efforts included their opposition to the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal and their support for Mr Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement.

In addition to pro-Israel interest groups like AIPAC, the Israeli government has also spent about $15.8m on lobbying-related efforts in American politics. The Jewish Agency for Israel, a nonprofit group, spent around $8.3m. These numbers are provided by OpenSecrets based on Foreign Agents Registration Act filings.

Although AIPAC is prohibited from directly contributing to campaigns, their staff and supporters can make financial contributions to election campaigns.

In general, however, the pro-Israel lobby has been an influential player in terms of campaign contributions: It has spent about $14.9m in the 2018 election cycle. It also has given more to Democrats than Republicans last year with the former receiving about $9.3m in campaign contributions.

Some of the top recipients include Democratic Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey and Republican Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, each receiving $548,507 and $352,894 respectively.

Ms Omar’s comments were swiftly censured by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders, who accused her tweet of perpetuating anti-semitic tropes and called it “deeply offensive.”

The Anti-Defamation League, an international Jewish group, said that: “As Americans and Jews, we expect our politicians to condemn bigotry, not to fuel it. Words matter. At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in the U.S. and abroad, Rep. Omar is promoting the ugly, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews have an outsized influence over politics."

However, several progressive Jewish groups spoke in defence of Ms Omar and criticised the double-standard applied on the Muslim-American lawmaker.

IfNotNow, an organisation led by American Jews with the mission “to end our community's support for the Israeli occupation, started a petition to support Ms Omar and condemning the “outsized response” by Democratic leadership.

The organisation said that while Ms Omar had poor word choice in her tweet, it acknowledged the“ attacks against her are designed to discredit a new generation of political leaders who oppose Netanyahu and his government’s racist policies.”

Ms Omar released a statement on Monday evening “unequivocally” apologising for the tweet while also standing by her assertion that lobbying has a “problematic role” in American 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," Ms Omar said. "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."

She added, "At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It's gone on too long and we must be willing to address it."

In his statement on Tuesday, Mr Trump insinuated that the Muslim congresswoman’s comments were “deep seeded in her heart,” and called her apology “lame.”