WASHINGTON (AP) — Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar has “unequivocally” apologized for tweets suggesting that members of Congress support Israel because they are being paid to do so, which drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The Minnesota Democrat said she had no intention of offending anyone, including Jewish Americans.
“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 about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
The statement on Monday was the latest reckoning among Democrats of intense differences in their ranks over the U.S.-Israeli relationship, highlighted by criticism from Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. They are the first Muslim women to serve in Congress. Pelosi and other Democrats, including leaders and chairmen, laid down a marker making clear that Omar had overstepped.
In a pair of tweets over the weekend, Omar criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” she wrote, invoking slang about $100 bills.
Asked on Twitter who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded, “AIPAC!”
That sparked Pelosi’s first public rebuke of a freshman lawmaker who had helped flip the House from Republican control and is part of a record number of women in Congress.
“Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” Pelosi said in a statement issued by her office and signed by other Democratic leaders after a bipartisan backlash against the Minnesota Democrat. “We condemn these remarks, and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”
It also was a stark exposure of an increasingly tense split among Democrats over U.S.-Israeli policy ahead of the 2020 elections. None of the Democratic presidential hopefuls weighed in publicly as their party’s House leaders chastised Omar.
Omar’s fellow freshmen felt the strain. Some, such as Jewish Reps. Elaine Luria of Virginia and Max Rose of New York, explicitly denounced her remarks. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., said: “Anti-Semitism or xenophobia is never acceptable. I’m glad Rep. Omar has apologized.”
Senior Democrats dealt the new lawmaker a swift schooling.
“There is an expectation of leaders — particularly those with a demonstrated commitment to the cause of justice and equality — that they would be extremely careful not to tread into the waters of anti-Semitism or any other form of prejudice or hate,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York said in a statement. “Rep. Omar failed that test of leadership with these comments.”
Republicans called on Democrats to strip Omar of her seat on the House Foreign Relations Committee, but Chairman Eliot Engel stopped just short of that. He said in a statement that he expects his committee members to discuss policies on merits. And though he did not name Omar, he left little doubt that his statement was a response to her tweets.
“It’s shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money,'” Engel said.
Asked on Air Force One en route to El Paso, Texas, about the controversy, President Donald Trump said the freshman congresswoman “should be ashamed of herself” for the tweets.
“I think it was a terrible statement, and I don’t think her apology was adequate,” he said. Asked what she should have said, Trump replied: “She knows what to say.”
AIPAC is a nonprofit organization that works to influence U.S. policy toward Israel. While it is barred from directly donating to candidates, it encourages its more than 100,000 members to do so and to be politically active.