Ilhan Omar: Democrat congresswoman accused of antisemitism over Israel tweets

Politician attacks 'smears from the GOP and their allies'

Zamira Rahim
Monday 11 February 2019 21:34
Former refugee Ilhan Omar becomes the first Somali-American state legislator to win US House primary

Ilhan Omar, a newly elected US congresswoman, has been accused of antisemitism after she criticised a pro-Israel lobby group online.

In two tweets posted late on Sunday night the Minnesota Democrat implied that funding from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was responsible for US politicans’ support for Benjamin Netanyahu‘s controversial Israeli government.

Following calls from fellow Democrats for her to apologise, Ms Omar has since posted a message on her Twitter account acknowledging the backlash.

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 consitutents or Jewish Americans as a whole ... I unequivolally apologise.”

Before the apology, a statement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other members of House Democratic leadership said anti-Semitism had to be called out “without exception.”

“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” the statement read. “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.”

Ms Omar has previously criticised Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people, a policy position which has angered right wing politicians, including Republican congressman Kevin McCarthy.

The minority leader for the House of Representatives has called on Democrats to rebuke Ms Omar for alleged antisemitism.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Ms Omar said online, in response to Mr McCarthy’s reaction. She was then asked, by a journalist, about who she thought was “paying American politicians to be pro-Israel”.

“AIPAC,” Ms Omar said in reply.

The politician’s tweets have drawn criticism from her own party, with some viewing Ms Omar’s comments as antisemitic and conflating Jewish people with the Israeli government.

“Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself,” Max Rose, a congressman from New York, said in a statement.

Ms Omar argued that her criticism of the Israeli government does not amount to criticism of Jewish people.

Chelsea Clinton also joined in the online debate.

“We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism,” she said.

Ms Clinton added that she was familiar with “bad faith” attacks in politics.

“Chelsea – I would be happy to talk,” Ms Omar said in a tweet.

“We must call out smears from the GOP and their allies. And I believe we can do that without criticizing people for their faith.”

“I look forward to building an inclusive movement for justice with you.”

“Completely agree,” said Ms Clinton. ”I will reach out to your office tomorrow. “

AIPAC is a non-profit organisation that does not donate directly to politicans but is influential on Capitol Hill.

“AIPAC empowers pro-Israel activists across all ages, religions, races and political parties to be politically engaged and build relationships with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle to promote the U.S.-Israel relationship,” the group’s website says.

Ms Omar is one of the first two Muslim women to ever be elected to congress, alongside Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

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Both women were sworn into the institution in January and have attracted Islamophobic comments online.

Ms Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, has also faced sustained attacks from right wing commentators over her criticism of Israel.

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