Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar Apologizes for Anti-Semitic Comments

Democrats have joined Republicans in criticizing Representative Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, for comments that they say are anti-Semitic.
Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

Representative Ilhan Omar, who has been battling charges of anti-Semitism for weeks, apologized on Monday for insinuating that American support for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group — a comment that drew swift and unqualified condemnation from fellow Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The mea culpa by Ms. Omar, a freshman lawmaker from Minnesota and one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, came after a day of bipartisan outrage over her tweet Sunday night asserting that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins baby,” a reference to hundred-dollar bills.

“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 in a statement released on Twitter, about an hour after Ms. Pelosi and the entire Democratic leadership publicly chastised her for engaging in “deeply offensive” anti-Semitic tropes.

“My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole,” Ms. Omar wrote, adding, “I unequivocally apologize.”

The verbal altercation between Ms. Pelosi and Ms. Omar was only the latest example of the speaker stepping in to try to keep her diverse and unruly caucus in line. She finagled her own election to the speakership, threw some subtle cold water on Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s ambitious “Green New Deal” and tamped down aggressive talk of impeaching President Trump. In the coming days she may again have to step in to pass an immigration and border security deal that is likely to anger the most liberal wing of the House.

But even as Democrats in Congress condemned Ms. Omar, her fierce and persistent criticism of Israel is exposing tensions within the broader party, with younger liberals increasingly willing to accuse the Jewish state of human rights abuses while older stalwarts like Ms. Pelosi stand firmly behind it. Republicans, sensing an opportunity to woo Jewish voters, have sought to exploit those divisions, and on Monday evening, Mr. Trump weighed in.

“I think she should be ashamed of herself,” the president told reporters, referring to Ms. Omar. “I think it was a terrible statement and I don’t think her apology was adequate.”

At the same time, Ms. Pelosi is facing questions from Republicans in Congress about whether she went far enough. When Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, made comments embracing white supremacy, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, stripped him of his committee assignments and the House passed a resolution condemning his words.

Mr. McCarthy, who was accused of anti-Semitism himself this fall when he said the billionaires George Soros, Michael R. Bloomberg and Tom Steyer were trying to buy the election, has demanded that Ms. Pelosi do the same with Ms. Omar. She serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — a plum assignment that puts her in a position to influence American policy in the Middle East.

So far, the speaker has declined to take that action, but she did coordinate the condemnation of Ms. Omar’s words from the top five House Democratic leaders.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg