Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) can’t seem to go long without finding herself in the midst of controversy.
Omar is facing a fresh round of criticism this weekend over what many have called anti-Semitic rhetoric by the freshman congresswoman. Rep. Omar has since defended her statements.
An “unacceptable pattern” of hate
The allegedly anti-Semitic remarks from Omar came at a forum at the Busboys and Poets restaurant in Washington on Wednesday. Omar, joined by fellow Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) — who shares the title of first Muslim woman elected to Congress with Omar — fielded questions on a variety of topics from audience members at the event, but it didn’t take long for attention to turn to Omar’s controversial year.
An audience member reportedly shouted: “It is about the Benjamins!,” a reference to a now-deleted tweet from Omar in which the Minnesota representative invoked a long-standing anti-Semitic trope to draw a link between congressional support for Israel and Jewish lobbying firms.
Omar apologized for that tweet following blowback from both sides of the political aisle, including President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, both of whom called for her resignation. Even House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called on Omar to apologize.
“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 at the time. But Omar didn’t seem as apologetic when she responded to the Washington audience member’s exclamation on Wednesday.
“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said. “I want to ask, ‘Why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the [National Rifle Association], or fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy?”
It didn’t take long for the Jewish community to answer her question. “Steve Hunegs, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said in a statement that he was appalled by [Omar’s] suggestion that Jewish-Americans have divided loyalties between the U.S. and Israel,” NBC reported.
Her comment “continues the unacceptable pattern of the Congresswoman deploying anti-Semitic rhetoric when speaking about Jewish-Americans’ involvement in our nation’s democratic process,” Hunegs said. Pro-Israel lobbying firm AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also criticized Omar’s comments, tweeting on Friday:
The charge of dual loyalty not only raises the ominous specter of classic anti-Semitism, but it is also deeply insulting to the millions upon millions of patriotic Americans, Jewish and non-Jewish, who stand by our democratic ally, Israel.
— AIPAC (@AIPAC) March 1, 2019
“I know what intolerance looks like”
Omar went on to defend her comments, past and present, obliquely suggesting that accusations of anti-Semitism are nothing more than a tactic used to preclude discussion about Israel’s influence in America.
“What I’m fearful of — because Rashida and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim,” Omar said. “But it’s almost as if, every single time we say something…we get to be labeled something and that ends the discussion. Because we end up defending that and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine.”
Tlaib herself has also faced backlash over allegedly anti-Semitic comments she made in January denouncing legislation that she claimed was designed to punish companies that participate in the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which looks to use economic means to put pressure on Israel.
“I know what intolerance looks like and I’m sensitive when someone says, ‘The words you used, Ilhan, are resemblant of intolerance.’ And I am cautious of that and I feel pained by that,” Omar said on Wednesday, somewhat apologizing for her statements from earlier this year. But the Jewish community isn’t lettering her off the hook just yet.
“Our community is exasperated by Rep. Omar’s unfulfilled promises to listen and learn from Jewish constituents while seemingly simultaneously finding another opportunity to make an anti-Semitic remark and insult our community,” Hunegs asserted.