Congress

Ilhan Omar called ‘anti-Semitic’ for tweet criticizing pro-Israel lobby

The spat spurred a conversation about the political influence of AIPAC

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., tweeted about the influence of AIPAC, received swift rebuke. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., received an onslaught of criticism Sunday night for her tweet that ascribed Republicans’ fierce opposition to boycotting Israel to the power of the pro-Israel lobby in Washington, D.C.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted Sunday in reference to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC. 

AIPAC is a nonprofit organization that lobbies to strengthen Israel’s relationship with the United States. AIPAC spends millions annually on lobbying efforts, and the group’s clout inside the Beltway is demonstrated by its record of legislative successes. 

The tweet came in response media reports that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had condemned Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., for their support of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Israeli government.

BDS is a non-violent movement calling on governments and corporations to exert financial pressure on Israel in an effort to recognize the rights of Palestinians. The campaign draws parallels to the South African anti-apartheid movement.

McCarthy has decried Omar and Tlaib’s support for BDS as anti-Semitic, attributing their opposition to the nation-state of Israel to anti-Jewish bigotry.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, has defended BDS as constitutionally protected free speech.

Omar is one of the first Muslim women in history elected to Congress. 

She faced Islamaphobic bigotry in her first few weeks in office and has repeatedly denounced discrimination against Jews. She has called the efforts to paint her as an anti-Semite a smear.

Critics of the tweet included many Republican members of Congress, former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and former ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama Daniel B. Shapiro.

Shapiro likened her tweet about the influence of AIPAC to an anti-Semitic trope that politicians who support the Jewish state have been “bought off by American Jewish money.”

Omar agreed to meet with Clinton on the issue, saying, “we must call out smears from the GOP and their allies. And I believe we can do that without criticizing people for their faith.”

The spat spurred a conversation about the political influence of AIPAC, which spends millions lobbying on legislation each year.

Omar’s defenders have also pointed to the outsized power of Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, who spent $123 million on the midterm elections — far more than any other individual contributor. The casino magnate pushes an extreme, hardline stance on Israel that rejects Palestinians’ right to exist.

“Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests,” AIPAC tweeted Sunday. 

Omar’s unusually outspoken criticism of the pro-Israel lobby has rattled some of her Democratic colleagues.

Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., former chair of the centrist New Democrat Coalition, defended Omar’s right to criticize Israel, but he urged more thoughtful wording in an appearance on CNN Monday.

“It’s perfectly legitimate to criticize Israel, or criticize the pro-Israeli lobby, just please be careful to do it in a way that can’t be interpreted as anti-Semitic,” Himes said.

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney scolded Omar for her tweet, but also directed criticism back at McCarthy for supporting President Donald Trump given his record of racist remarks and actions.

The New York Democrat pointed to a recent Trump tweet where the president, tweeting about presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, appears to make a joke about the Trail of Tears.

New member video profile: Rep. Ilhan Omar

 

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