WASHINGTON — Freshman Democratic lawmaker Ilhan Omar on Tuesday launched a Twitter broadside at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after he singled her out during his speech to AIPAC, accusing him of ignoring real issues like the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre to focus on her.
“At this year’s AIPAC conference, the topic PM Netanyahu chose to focus on was…me,” wrote Omar, the first of a series of 14 tweets on the issue.
In February, Omar, one of two newly elected Muslim Congresswomen, had tweeted that “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” in reference to AIPAC’s allegedly vast influence on American politics.
Benjamins are a slang term for $100 bills, which feature US founding father Benjamin Franklin.
After Omar was criticized for her use of what many saw as an anti-Semitic canard, the Somalia-born legislator removed the tweet and apologized.
“Some people will just never get it. They will never understand why the vast majority of Americans, Jews and non-Jews alike, support Israel. Take it from this Benjamin: it’s not about the Benjamins,” he said, although he did not mention Omar by name.
“The reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money. It’s because they share our values,” he went on. “It’s because America and Israel share a love of freedom and democracy. Because we cherish individual rights and the rule of law. It’s because we don’t judge people by the color of their skin, their religion, or their sexual orientation.”
Presumably referring to Omar and other critics of the administration’s Middle East policies, Netanyahu spoke of the need to confront those seeking to “defame” AIPAC and undermine American support for Israel.
“Despite what they claim, they do not merely criticize the policies of Israel’s government,” he said. “They do something else. They spew venom that has long been directed at the Jewish people.”
Omar was called out by name and implication at AIPAC in speeches by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. and Sen. Chuck Schumer from New York, to name a few.
She initially responded by referencing the prime minister’s legal woes. “This from a man facing indictments for bribery and other crimes in three separate public corruption affairs. Next!,” she tweeted.
Later she launched a full tweet-storm condemning Netanyahu and attempting to justifying her criticism of AIPAC.
“We are not even 6 months out from the Pittsburgh massacre. We are not even 2 weeks out from the Christchurch massacre,” she tweeted. “Yet the topic Netanyahu chose to focus on was…me.”
At this year’s AIPAC conference, the topic PM Netanyahu chose to focus on was…me.https://t.co/HbomAHmh9Y
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) March 26, 2019
Omar also slammed Netanyahu for engineering a union between the right-wing Jewish Home party and the extremist, Kahanist Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) in order to ensure that right-wing votes were not lost in the upcoming elections. The move was widely criticized, including by AIPAC.
“Netanyahu is in an alliance with Otzma Yehudit, referred to as the ‘KKK of Israel.’ Its leaders were members of a foreign terror organization and were involved in attempts to target Yitzhak Rabin. Yet Netanyahu chose to focus on…me,” she wrote.
She also attempted to justify her criticisms of AIPAC, saying that pro-Israel lobby had worked to stymie efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.
“I —like so many others—have not criticized AIPAC because of its membership or the country it advocates for. I’ve criticized it because it has repeatedly opposed efforts to guarantee peace and human rights in the region,” she said, citing AIPAC’s opposition to the Iran nuclear deal and, ostensibly, the 1993 Oslo peace accords.
Omar sparked turmoil within the Democratic caucus this month with repeated criticisms of Israel and suggestions that Israel’s supporters wanted lawmakers to pledge “allegiance” to a foreign country.
Omar was criticized by some as anti-Semitic, and her remarks was said to have revived a trope of dual Jewish loyalties.
Democrats wrestled with whether or how to punish the lawmaker, arguing over whether Omar, one of two Muslim women in Congress, should be singled out, what other types of bias should be decried and whether the party would tolerate dissenting views on Israel.
The divided party eventually drafted a resolution that condemned a wide range of bigotry including anti-Semitism anti-Muslim discrimination as “hateful expressions of intolerance” contradictory to US values.
US President Donald Trump has been among Omar’s the loudest critics, including last month when he called on her to resign from the House or at least resign her post on the Foreign Affairs Committee over her comments.
The Jewish vote in the US has long leaned solidly left, but in the wake of the Omar controversy, Republicans have sought to take advantage of the turmoil in the Democratic party. A fringe “Jexodus” movement has emerged with the aim of luring Jewish voters to the Republican party ahead of the 2020 elections.
Jexodus got a boost from Trump last week, who endorsed the group while claiming that Democrats had become an “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish” party.
Later, Trump went even further in an appearance before Republican National Committee donors, charging that Democrats “hate” Jewish people, according to a person who heard the remarks but spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the president’s comments at a private event.
The rhetoric comes amid a rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 58 percent increase in such incidents between 2016 and 2017. In October, a gunman killed 11 worshipers at a Pittsburgh synagogue, the deadliest attack ever on Jews in America.
Agencies contributed to this report