North America

US politician Ilhan Omar apologises for 'anti-Semitic' tweet

Democratic Representative from Minnesota Ilhan Omar delivers remarks during a press conference on deportation at Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Source: AAP

One of the first two Muslim women in the US Congress has apologised for remarks in which she implied that a prominent pro-Israel lobby compensated lawmakers for their support of the Jewish state.

Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in the US Congress, drew stern rebukes from Republicans and fellow Democrats Monday after suggesting US support for Israel is fueled by money from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

She has since apologised for the remarks. 

"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," Omar wrote in a statement posted to Twitter. 

"My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. 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 for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize."

"At the same time," she added, "I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], the [National Rifle Association] or the fossil fuel industry. It's gone on too long and we must be willing to address it."

Twitter exchange triggers uproar

The Minnesota freshman has faced criticism for weeks over her positions on the Jewish state, but it boiled over late Sunday after she reacted to a Republican critic in a tweet.

"It's all about the Benjamins baby," Omar replied, referring to American $100 bills featuring the likeness of Benjamin Franklin.

When a user asked who Omar believes is paying US politicians to support Israel, the former Somali refugee tweeted a one-word response: "AIPAC!"

The exchanges triggered an uproar, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi castigating Omar and demanding an apology for using "anti-Semitic tropes" in her tweet.

New Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar arrives before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address.
New Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar arrives before President Donald Trump delivers his State of the Union address.
AAP

"Congresswoman Omar's use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel's supporters is deeply offensive," said Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders.

"We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments," they said in a statement.

Pelosi also tweeted that she spoke with Omar Monday, and that they "agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms."

Several Democrats and Republicans spoke out to say Omar's prejudicial accusations were wrong about why lawmakers support Israel, arguing that the support is based on shared values and strategic interests.

Democrat Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee of which Omar is a member, called it "shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of 'Jewish money.'"

'Swift action' urged on anti-Semitic language

Liz Cheney, a top Republican leader in the House of Representatives, urged Democratic leaders to remove Omar from the committee.

Two Democratic lawmakers circulated a letter addressed to Pelosi and other leaders urging them to take "swift action" against anti-Semitic language by members.

The letter's authors, representatives Josh Gottheimer and Elaine Luria, who are both Jewish, did not mention Omar by name, but their intent was clear.

People leave post-it notes of support outside the office of Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar.
People leave post-it notes of support outside the office of Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar.

"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," they wrote.

Omar has been critical of Israel's government over its treatment of Palestinians. She has supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement which aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel.

Omar and fellow Muslim congressional freshman Rashida Tlaib's support for the boycott has opened a breach in the Democratic Party and threatens to create a fissure in the ironclad US-Israeli alliance.

Last month, Omar expressed regret for saying in a 2012 tweet that Israel "has hypnotized the world" while carrying out "evil."

AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has formidable financial clout, and it prides itself on its influence in US politics.

"Involvement in the political process is a tangible way of showing friends of Israel that you care about who serves in Congress," the group says on its website.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch