House Democratic leaders on Monday condemned remarks by Representative Ilhan Omar suggesting support for Israel among elected officials was purchased with Jewish money, after facing growing calls to take action against the freshman lawmaker.
Omar, a Minnesota Democrat who has been a vociferous critic of Israel, wrote Sunday on Twitter that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s call for her and Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) to be rebuked over their criticism of Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby,” a slang term for $100 bills.
Asked to clarify who she believed is paying politicians to support Israel, Omar named AIPAC, prompting allegations of anti-Semitism and bipartisan defense of the pro-Israel lobby group’s work.
While AIPAC wields considerable influence in Washington, it does not contribute to campaigns, nor does it make endorsements.
“Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” Democratic leaders, among them Nancy Pelosi, said in a joint statement.
“We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments,” they added.
The statement, which also touted the lawmakers’ support for Israel, did not say whether any further action against Omar would be taken.
Pelosi wrote on her Twitter account that she spoke with Omar earlier Monday and the two “agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.”
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) February 11, 2019
The rebuke came after a pair of Jewish Democrats circulated a letter calling on Democratic leaders to take “swift action” against anti-Semitism, without mentioning Omar by name.
“We must speak out when any Member — Democrat or Republican — uses harmful tropes and stereotypes, levels accusations of dual loyalty, or makes reckless statements like those yesterday,” Representatives Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Elaine Luria of Virginia wrote.
Omar’s remarks were also condemned by a number of other Jewish Democrats, including New York’s Eliot Engel, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee of which Omar is a member.
“Anti-Semitism in any form is unacceptable, and it’s shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money,'” he said in a statement.
Joining calls for action against Omar were the Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith.
“At a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in the US and abroad, Rep. Omar is promoting the ugly, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews have an outsized influence over politics,” ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement.
“The notion that wealthy Jews are controlling the government is a longstanding anti-Semitic trope and one of the pillars of modern anti-Semitism, a retread of ideas spread by bigots from David Duke to Louis Farrakhan,” he added.
Republican lawmakers and groups meanwhile called for Omar’s removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Rep. Omar’s suggestion that congressional support for Israel is about money brings a vile anti-Semitic stereotype into the partisan politics of our day. Omar says she opposes Israel, not Jews, but her use of anti-Semitic tropes in her anti-Israel comments plainly shows where she stands,” Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, said in a statement.
Omar, a Somali-born refugee from Ethiopia, has not responded to the controversy.
The lawmaker, who supports the boycott Israel movement, has been a strident critic of two anti-BDS bills that are being pushed in Congress.
The Israel Anti-Boycott Act, which would criminalize participation in boycotting Israel, and the Combating BDS Act, which would grant federal protections to states that implement anti-BDS laws, recently passed the Senate as part of a larger legislative package. The measures, however, are likely dead on arrival in the House, which is now controlled by Democrats.
The anti-BDS bills are also intensely opposed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street, and other progressive organizations over concerns that they would violate Americans’ First Amendment rights of free speech by wielding the power of the state to suppress an unpopular political movement.
Omar tweeted during the 2012 war in Gaza that Israel had “hypnotized the world,” although she recently apologized.
AFP and Eric Cortellessa contributed to this report.