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Omar: ‘I unequivocally apologize’ after backlash over new Israel tweets

WASHINGTON — Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota publicly apologized Monday after she faced backlash for tweets condemned by both sides of the aisle as anti-Semitic.

“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 said.

“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, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

Omar’s statement came on the heels of one from House Democratic leadership calling on Omar to apologize for comments they said included “anti-Semitic tropes.”

The statement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other members of House Democratic leadership said anti-Semitism had to be called out “without exception.”

“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” the statement read.

“But 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.”

Omar faced increasing backlash after suggesting Republican support of Israel is fueled by donations from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a prominent pro-Israel group.

On Sunday, Omar responded to a tweet by journalist Glenn Greenwald that reads, “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”

Omar replied, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” followed by a musical notes emoji.

Omar has been critical of the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians and supported the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, a nonviolent activist campaign that aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel over its actions toward Palestinians, including calling for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

In response to Omar’s tweet Sunday, a woman named Batya Ungar-Sargon, an opinion editor of the Forward, tweeted, “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 anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.”

Omar responded to the tweet and wrote, “AIPAC!”

The freshman congresswoman faced condemnation from Democrats and Republicans on Twitter.

New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose tweeted, “When someone uses hateful and offensive tropes and words against people of any faith, I will not be silent. Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself. 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.”

“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,” Rose tweeted.

“In the Democratic Party – and in the United States of America – we celebrate the diversity of our people, and the Gods we pray to, as a strength,” Rose continued. “The Congresswoman’s statements do not live up to that cherished ideal.”

On Friday, before the tweets were posted, House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy railed against recent comments by Omar and other freshman Democrats who have spoken critically against the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians.

He said if Democratic leaders don’t take action, he might act on his own.

McCarthy directly compared their comments, which Republicans have labeled anti-Semitic, to the recent comments by Rep. Steve King of Iowa when he told The New York Times, “White nationalist, white supremacist, Western civilization — how did that language become offensive?”

McCarthy pointed to actions that he took to punish King, such as blocking him from committee assignments, and criticized Democratic leaders for being silent about their own members.

It is unclear what actions he can take, though there is already a resolution in the works that introduced by New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin that calls for a rejection of anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in the U.S. and around the world.

The text of the resolution mentions Omar by name, citing, among other things, Omar’s statement that “Israel has hypnotized the world.”

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