WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and several members of Congress from both parties are accusing Rep. Ilhan Omar of echoing anti-Semitic stereotypes in a series of tweets suggesting that money fuels support for Israel.
Omar apologized Monday afternoon, saying she was “grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
“Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception,” Pelosi said in a statement Monday afternoon that was also signed by five other members of her leadership team.
“Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” Pelosi continued. “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”
In tweeting out her statement Monday afternoon, Pelosi said she had spoken to Omar and that the two “agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.”
Omar said in her own tweet Monday, "I unequivocally apologize" and that she was "listening and learning." She added that she would continue to call out "the problematic role of lobbyist in our politics, whether it be [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent pro-Israel group], the NRA or the fossil fuel industry.”
Omar, the first Somali-American elected to Congress, has received criticism for her statements on Israel in the past. Recently, she and fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the only two Muslim women in Congress, have signaled support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, or BDS, a Palestinian-led movement aimed to protest the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians.
On Sunday night. Omar retweeted Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald, who shared an article about GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy threatening “action” against Omar and Talib for their previous comments criticizing Israel, though he did not specify which comments he was referring to. (Haaretz, which published the piece, speculated that McCarthy was likely referring to a tweet Omar sent in 2012 saying Israel had “hypnotized the world”; she has since apologized for using that language.)
On Sunday night, Omar quote-tweeted Greenwald, saying, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”
When Batya Ungar-Sargon, an opinions editor at the Jewish news outlet the Forward, responded accusing Omar of anti-Semitism and asking who she “thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel,” Omar quote-tweeted her saying “AIPAC!”
AIPAC is an influential organization that regularly lobbies for vehemently pro-Israel policy on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch. It is a nonprofit and does not donate to campaigns itself, but its members often do.
Within hours of her tweets, powerful figures from both sides of the aisle reprimanded Omar for what they saw as her engaging with harmful, anti-Semitic stereotypes and conspiracy theories accusing Jewish people of secretly using money to control government for their own gain. Omar’s office did not immediately respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
As the controversy grew overnight and through Monday morning, Omar had been mostly, but not entirely, silent on Twitter. She retweeted some tweets in her defense including one questioning whether her similar criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s influence should be considered anti-Muslim. She also retweeted an Axios article about pro-Israel casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson being the GOP’s biggest donor.
Omar did respond to Chelsea Clinton, daughter to Hillary and Bill Clinton, who tweeted that she was planning to reach out to Omar to “call out anti-Semitic language.”
Omar responded, “Chelsea - I would be happy to talk. 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.”
Clinton later thanked Omar for her apology and said she looked forward to their conversation.
Several of Omar’s Democratic colleagues had criticized her language publicly on Monday, including Rep. Jerry Nadler, a fellow New Yorker and chair of the powerful Judiciary Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee, of which Omar is a member.
“It’s shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish Money,’” Engel’s statement said. “Criticism of American policy toward any country is fair game, but this must be done on policy grounds.”
New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose tweeted a statement Sunday night saying, "Congresswoman Omar's statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself. Implying that Americans support Israel because of money alone is offensive enough," the statement read.
"At a time when anti-Semitic attacks are on the rise, our leaders should not be invoking hurtful stereotypes and caricatures of Jewish people to dismiss those who support Israel.”
McCarthy, who had already been putting pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to censure Omar, went much further, comparing her previous statements on Israel to comment made by Congress’s most notorious racist, Rep. Steve King, who recently questioned why the term “white supremacist” was a bad thing. McCarthy and Republican leadership removed him from all of his committee roles in response, after years of largely ignoring his racist statements.
McCarthy himself was accused of peddling in anti-Semitic conspiracy theories when he tweeted in October that George Soros, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Steyer were trying to “buy” the election and needed to be stopped. The tweet came just a day after a pipe bomb was mailed to Soros’s home. McCarthy later deleted it.
This story was updated to include Omar's apology, after she tweeted it Monday afternoon.