Democratic leaders forced freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota to apologize Monday after she said lawmakers who support Israel are being bought off by a powerful Jewish lobby group, drawing a massive bipartisan rebuke.
Ms. Omar, who had originally defiantly defended her comments, did an about-face and said she had been convinced that her comments smacked of anti-Semitism.
She said she stands by her criticism of Israeli policy but was wrong to suggest those who disagreed with her had been bought off by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on this painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents of Jewish Americans as a whole,” she said in a statement. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Her explanation came Monday afternoon, a day after she tweeted that lawmakers who supported Israel were “all about the Benjamins baby,” referencing a 1997 Puff Daddy song where it means “all about money.” She later added she was talking specifically about money from the AIPAC, digging deeper into anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish people using other people as puppets because of their supposed control of banking and finance.
Both Republicans and Democrats said Ms. Omar, who is Somali by birth and is one of two Muslim women elected to Congress last year, was perpetrating an anti-Semitic trope.
“Her words are deeply hurtful and offensive, particularly as they build on a previous comment she made about Jews ‘hypnotizing’ the world in support of Israel,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said in a statement. “In this fragile moment in our nation’s history, we must all redouble our efforts to engage in policy debates in ways that respect the dignity and humanity of all people.”
Republicans demanded Democratic Party leaders do something — and early Monday afternoon they did, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi leading a call for Ms. Omar to apologize.
“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” wrote Mrs. Pelosi and her top lieutenants in the House Democratic Caucus. “But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.”
Ms. Omar complied with the demand, issuing her apology for her words — though not her beliefs about Israel or AIPAC, which she said played a “problematic role” in politics, comparing it to the National Rifle Association or the fossil fuel industry. “It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it,” she said.
Mrs. Pelosi, on Twitter, suggested the apology settled matters.
“In our conversation today, Congresswoman Omar and I agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms,” Mrs. Pelosi tweeted.
Republicans said an apology wasn’t enough, with some citing how their party stripped Rep. Steve King of Iowa of his committee assignments over racist tweets.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise and Republican Conference Chair Liz Cheney have called for Ms. Omar to be removed from her position on the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Good that some Dems have condemned the disgraceful anti-Semitic remarks of Rep. Omar — but their words are empty unless Dem leaders remove her from the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Mr. Scalise tweeted. “No one with her anti-Semitic views should be allowed to represent U.S. foreign policy on that committee.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy signaled Republicans will try to force some further punishment.
“Republicans will take action this week to ensure the House speaks out against this hatred and stands with Israel and the Jewish people,” he said in a statement.
The Anti-Defamation League released a statement calling for the House leadership to take action but did not specify what the group would like to see.
“Unfortunately, making insensitive statements toward the Jewish community is not new for Rep. Omar. These tweets are part of a disturbing pattern of behavior that must end. The Congresswoman needs to understand that these comments promote dangerous stereotypes and are hurtful to her Jewish constituents and Jewish-Americans throughout the country,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of ADL, said in a statement.
Ms. Omar was not without her defenders.
In separate interviews on CNN, Democratic Reps. Dan Kildee of Michigan and Deb Haaland of New Mexico declined to criticize their colleague and placed the focus on campaign contributions.
“I wouldn’t take it as anti-Semitism,” Mr. Kidlee said. “We ought to be careful not to construe that in anything other than a concern about the fact that money has undue influence on political decision making.”
AIPAC is not a major provider of political donations. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, since the 1990 electoral cycle, the group has donated less than $181,000 to candidates, the majority going to Democrats. Numerous lobby groups and organizations spend in the tens of millions every two-year cycle.
“It’s not up to us to police what people say on Twitter,” Ms. Haaland said later in the afternoon. “I have never witnessed any of my colleagues promote, or speak, or allude to anti-Semitism.”
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