IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Rep. Omar apologizes for controversial tweets on Israel lobby after backlash from Democratic leaders

Pelosi, House Democratic leaders denounced Omar for promoting 'anti-Semitic tropes.'
Get more newsLiveon

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar apologized Monday afternoon for controversial tweets about the Israel lobby in the United States after her comments were denounced by House Democratic leaders as "anti-Semitic tropes."

In a post on Twitter, Omar "unequivocally" apologized for the earlier tweets and said her intention was "never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole." But the freshman lawmaker, who was one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress last fall, added that she was not backing down on the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics.”

Earlier Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders demanded the Minnesota Democrat apologize, which she did just before 3 p.m.

"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 leaders said in a joint statement. "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."

In a post on Twitter, Pelosi said she and Omar had discussed the tweets.

A proponent of the BDS — Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions — movement aimed at putting economic and political pressure on Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, Omar first tweeted Sunday night that money was driving U.S. politicians to defend Israel.

She then tweeted that AIPAC — the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee — was paying politicians to support Israel.

Omar, a Somali refugee, came under fire from Democrats and Republicans who viewed the comment about a want for "Benjamins" being the reason why Israel is so solidly supported by the U.S. government as an anti-Semitic trope involving Jews and money.

AIPAC, a nonprofit that does not donate directly to candidates but works to promote a staunchly pro-Israel message in Washington, responded to Omar, tweeting that it is "proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-Israel relationship."

"Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests," the group's tweet continued. "We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work."

Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tweeted that she would reach out to Omar's office on Monday to discuss "anti-Semitic tropes." Omar tweeted that she would be happy to chat with Clinton.

Omar, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, was originally responding in her earliest tweet to criticism from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy over her prior comments regarding Israel. McCarthy and other Republicans have called on Democratic leadership to "take action" regarding Omar and fellow Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, the other Muslim woman elected last year, over their criticism of Israel. McCarthy compared it to Republicans having taken action regarding the racist remarks made by Republican Rep. Steve King of Iowa.

Meanwhile, Democratic Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Elaine Luria of Virginia were seeking signatures Monday from Jewish House colleagues on a letter they plan to send to the House Democratic leadership calling on "each member of our Caucus to unite against anti-Semitism and hateful tropes and stereotypes."

"As Jewish Members of Congress, we are deeply alarmed by recent rhetoric from certain members within our Caucus, including just last night, that has disparaged us and called into question our loyalty to our nation," the Democrats wrote in the letter, obtained by NBC News.

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips, who is Jewish and whose district is adjacent to Omar's, spoke with Omar on Monday night to express his offense at her comments and extend an invitation for discussions aimed at fostering a better understanding between Jewish and Muslim members of Congress, according to a statement from his office.

"I spoke privately with Rep. Ilhan Omar today before issuing a statement in the hopes of converting a painful experience into a learning opportunity and a mutual commitment to pursue understanding," Phillips said. "We agreed to move forward with a shared goal of working collaboratively to combat hatred and intolerance towards all persecuted communities, and commit to respectful debate of the issues important to each of us."

Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement Monday that it was "shocking to hear a Member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of ‘Jewish money.’"

"I fully expect that when we disagree on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we will debate policy on the merits and never question members’ motives or resort to personal attacks," he said. "Criticism of American policy toward any country is fair game, but this must be done on policy grounds."

Multiple prominent House Republicans called on Omar to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

McCarthy, who came under fire in October for posting — and then deleting — his own allegedly anti-Semitic tweet targeting Jewish liberal megadonor George Soros, promised to "take action this week" to speak out against Omar's tweets. Since Republicans are in the minority, they have limited options, although they would have the option of bringing up a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment.

President Donald Trump on Monday night dismissed Omar's apology as insufficient. "I think she should be ashamed of herself. I think it was a terrible statement. I don't think her apology was adequate," he said as he arrived in El Paso for an evening rally.

Reaction continued to pour in on Monday to the original comment.

Speaking on CNN’s "New Day" Monday, Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan said he did not view the tweets as anti-Semitic.

"We ought to be careful not to construe in that anything other than a concern about the fact that money has undue influence on political decision-making," he said.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., told CNN that those in public office should be comfortable offering opinions but careful about how they phrase things, especially when referring to ethnic or religious groups that have suffered from discrimination, so that their comments aren't misinterpreted.

"It's perfectly legitimate to criticize Israel or the pro-Israeli lobby," Himes said. "Just please be careful to do it in a way that can't be interpreted as being anti-semitic."

He added, "I think this is really a good example of the need for all of us to be very, very specific about what it is we are saying so that we don't come off as being anti-semitic, racist, bigoted."

Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said in a statement that "trafficking in anti-Semitic tropes is unacceptable and deeply worrisome to the Jewish community."

"The use of stereotypes and offensive rhetoric by Members of Congress, whether anti-Semitic or racist, must come to an end," he said. "They should never be a part of any conversation about the policies of Congress. They do not belong in any conversation, period. I look forward to exploring productive and effective ways to ensure that all my colleagues understand why this is so hurtful to me and my community and why it cannot be tolerated in the U.S. House or Senate."

And Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement that Omar's choice of words was "deeply disappointing and disturbing," although he also cautioned against unfairly painting someone as bigoted.

“While of course our nation’s leaders are free to debate the relative influence of a particular organization on our country’s policy-making process, or the factors that make our system of governance imperfect, there is an expectation of leaders — particularly those with a demonstrated commitment to the cause of justice and equality — that they would be extremely careful not to tread into the waters of anti-Semitism or any other form of prejudice or hate," Nadler said. "Rep. Omar failed that test of leadership with these comments."

But Nadler said he was also concerned about "concerted right-wing tactics aimed at advancing their agenda by distracting and dividing those committed to equality and social justice. These tactics have painted some unfairly and we must guard against this as well."

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., however, called Omar's comments "absolutely shameful."

"No. 1, Israel is our main ally strategically," King told Fox News. "They are indispensable to our foreign policy in the Middle East. That's No. 1. No. 2, it's immoral to be suggesting that somehow members of Congress are being paid off by Jews, by AIPAC. That goes right into the anti-Semitic bias, which has plagued the world for too long."