Democratic House lawmakers and former government officials are characterizing recent comments from one of their rising stars, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, as antisemitic.
The exceptional rebuke comes after Omar, a freshman member of Congress, suggested on Twitter that her colleagues have been paid off to support Israel. She later "unequivocally apologize[d]," saying, "anti-Semitism is real."
"My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole," she wrote on Twitter. "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."
Earlier, Republicans pounced on her comments and called for Democratic leadership in the House to allow for censure vote of Omar, who, along with Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, is one of the first two female Muslim lawmakers to secure seats in Congress. Both members support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement of Israel and deny the nation’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Democratic leadership said they condemned the remarks, in a statement released by House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
“Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception," they said. "“As Democrats and as Americans, the entire Congress must be fully engaged in denouncing and rejecting all forms of hatred, racism, prejudice and discrimination wherever they are encountered.”
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."
The statement released by Pelosi's office was issued on her behalf, along with Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján, Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries and Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark.
Several prominent Democratic figures – including Jewish members of the House caucus – have condemned her, and called for a nonpartisan response to the use of classic antisemitic tropes.
Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Elaine Luria of Virginia are encouraging fellow members to sign onto a letter that would amount to a veiled rebuke of Omar short of a censure on the House floor. And Max Rose and Jerry Nadler, both of New York, expressed on Monday personal disgust with her remarks.
“It is deeply disappointing and disturbing to hear Representative Ilhan Omar’s choice of words in her exchange with a journalist yesterday, wherein she appears to traffic in old antisemitic tropes about Jews and money,” said Nadler, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, referencing a tweet Omar posted during Israel’s last operation in Gaza that has been widely criticized. “Her words are deeply hurtful and offensive, particularly as they build on a previous comment she made about Jews ‘hypnotizing’ the world in support of Israel – another old trope born of hate-filled texts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”
“Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself,” Rose wrote. “Implying that Americans support Israel because of money alone is offensive enough. But to go a step further and retweet someone declaring their pain at her sentiment is simply unacceptable.”
Ted Deutch of Florida also weighed in on Monday, stating that antisemitic tropes “do not belong in any conversation, period.”
“Trafficking in antisemitic tropes is unacceptable and deeply worrisome to the Jewish community,” Deutch said. “The use of stereotypes and offensive rhetoric by members of Congress, whether antisemitic or racist, must come to an end. They should never be a part of any conversation about the policies of Congress I look forward to exploring productive and effective ways to ensure that all my colleagues understand why this is so hurtful to me and my community and why it cannot be tolerated in the US House or Senate.”
And Eliot Engel, another Jewish member and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of which Omar is a member, expressed “shock” at her comments and vowed to call out antisemitism anywhere he sees it.
As chairman, he will “ensure that support for Israel remains bipartisan,” Engel stated.
The Jewish Democratic Council of America also issued a rebuke of the congresswoman, adding to a growing chorus throughout the day.
Omar made the comment in a tweet on Sunday evening, sparking immediate backlash, with Twitter users accusing Omar of going down a slippery slope by linking AIPAC with the negative antisemitic stereotype of Jewish people’s false obsession with money. She was posting in response to a tweet by follower Glenn Greenwald, who wrote that “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation, even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
Later, Twitter user Batya Ungar-Sargon, an opinion editor for the Forward, wrote, “Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second antisemitic trope you’ve tweeted.”
Instead of clearing the air about the previous post, Omar continued with a response: “AIPAC!”
Chelsea Clinton and Meghan McCain, daughters of former President Bill Clinton and Senator John McCain, united in condemnation of Omar’s tweet. And former US ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, offered a lengthy Twitter thread on the danger of Omar’s rhetoric.
Omar’s “outrageous comments equating politicians’ support for Israel with being bought off by American Jewish money are a vile antisemitic trope,” Shapiro, who served in the Obama administration, wrote. “They need to be condemned by all in our party.”
CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt contributed to the discussion as well, saying that “words matter.”
“Antisemitism is on the rise in the US and abroad,” Greenblatt continued. “The use of this tired antisemitic trope about Jews and money is inappropriate and upsetting. As Americans and Jews, we expect our politicians to condemn bigotry, not fuel it.”