US Muslim Congresswoman in anti-Semitism row after criticising pro-Israel politicians

US Muslim Congresswoman in anti-Semitism row after criticising pro-Israel politicians
Minnesota congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, has apologised after being accused of tweeting an "anti-Semitic trope".
4 min read
12 February, 2019
US Rep. Ilhan Omar has apologised after facing criticism for antisemitic tweet [Getty Images]

Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in US Congress and the first to wear a headscarf in the House of Representatives, apologised on Monday after facing accusations of anti-Semitism triggered by her criticism of pro-Israel politicians.

The Minnesota Congresswoman, responding to a tweet about a Republican representative leading a campaign against her, wrote "it's all about the Benjamins baby", a colloquia reference to the American $100 bill suggesting her pro-Israel rival was financially beholden.

The original tweet came from Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald on Sunday, sharing a story about Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy, who seeks to ostracize Omar and fellow congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for their criticism of Israel.

Batya Ungar-Sargon, an editor at the Forward, accused Omar of tweeting an "anti-Semitic trope" and asked who the Congresswomen believed was paying American politics to be pro-Israel. 

Omar replied "AIPAC!", the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobby group that defends Israel’s interests.  

These exchanges caused an uproar, first on Twitter and then in the House. 

Hillary Clinton's daughter, Chelsea Clinton, "co-signed" Batya-Sargon's attack, saying "we should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism."

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic House Speaker, demanded an "immediate" apology for the use of "anti-Semitic tropes" in Omar's tweet. Several members of congress from both sides of the bench also critiqued Omar for her language.

Omar, the daughter to Somali refugees, "unequivocally apologised" on Twitter on Monday in a statement acknowledging that anti-Semitism is real. But Omar did not back down on AIPAC, reiterating "the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil fuel industry."

Omar has faced weeks of controvery over her positions on Israel, culminating in this latest controversy that has trended on Twitter and been blasted across news sites. 

Condemnation from across the political spectrum was swift.

Democrat Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Foreign Affairs Committee of which Omar is a part, called it "shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of 'Jewish money'".

Liz Cheney, a top Republican in the House of Representatives urged Democrats to remove Omar from the committee.

President Donald Trump was not far behind, telling reporters that Omar "should be ashamed of herself".

Several members of Congress critiqued Omar's implication on why lawmakers support Israel. Others applauded Omar for her apology.

"Thank you for the apology and for hearing the voices of Jewish Americans," tweeted Congressman Josh Gottheimer.

Gottheimer and fellow House Democrat Elaine Luria circulated a letter addressed to Pelosi and other leaders pushing them to "take swift action" against anti-Semitic language by members - not mentioning Omar by name. 

"The Senate's unconstitutional effort to silence criticism of Israel (needs) to be defeated."

Others have come out in support of Omar, highlighting that Omar's reference was to AIPAC and not 'Jewish money'. 

Many have pointed to the conflation of anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

Omar's defenders took to Twiter to provide facts about the reality of AIPAC. 

AIPAC's financial influence on US politics is not a new topic. In a piece for The New York Times in 2011, Thomas Friedman wrote "I hope that Israel’s prime minister understands that standing ovation he got in Congress this year wasn't for his politics. That ovation was bought & paid for by the Israel lobby.”

AIPAC is one of many in a sizeable pro-Israel lobby which includes a number of groups. Just recently, AIPAC backed the Combating BDS Act which 77 of 100 senators voted for.

Omar has been critical of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, and supports the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Omar and fellow Muslim congressional freshman Rashida Tlaib's support for BDS opposes the Democratic Party position and threatens the almost absolute pro-Israel support found in the US establishment. 

In February, author and commentator CJ Werleman wrote in a piece for The New Arab, "Tlaib and Omar have already established themselves as moral leaders in their party, championing universal human rights, and equality for the Palestinian people."

"They will need to be even louder if the Senate's unconstitutional effort to silence criticism of Israel is to be defeated." 

Last month, Omar expressed regret for saying in a 2012 tweet that Israel "has hypnotised the world" while carrying out "evil".