Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar apologises for ‘anti-Semitic’ remarks

Meanwhile, negotiations resume in last-ditch effort to avert a shutdown on Friday

Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar speaks at a press conference on deportation at Capitol Hill in Washington, last week. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar speaks at a press conference on deportation at Capitol Hill in Washington, last week. Photograph: Shawn Thew/EPA

 

Ilhan Omar, the recently-elected Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota, was forced to issue a public apology on Monday after senior members of her own party denounced comments that were perceived as anti-Semitic.

Ms Omar, one of two Muslim women elected to congress in November’s midterm elections, tweeted on Sunday night that “it’s all about the Benjamins, baby” a reference to $100 bills.

Asked by a Jewish journalist on Twitter to whom she was referring when she suggested that money was driving US policy on Israel, she said “AIPAC!”, referring to the American Israel public affairs committee.

Her comments led to swift condemnation by senior Democrats. Two Jewish Democratic members of Congress, Virginia congresswoman Elaine Luria and Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, circulated a letter demanding action.

“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. We urge you to join us in calling on each member of our caucus to unite against anti-Semitism and hateful tropes and stereotypes,” they wrote.

Unacceptable

Eliot Engel, the Democratic chair of the House foreign relations committee, of which Ms Omar is a member, said: “Anti-Semitism in any form is unacceptable, and it’s shocking to hear a member of Congress invoke the anti-Semitic trope of Jewish money.”

By lunchtime, House speaker Nancy Pelosi had weighed in, demanding an apology from Ms Omar after speaking with her.

Shortly after, the 37-year-old congresswoman issued a statement. “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. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologise,” she said, adding that she reaffirmed the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics”.

Ms Omar and Rashida Tlaib, another Muslim member of congress, have been the focus of much Republican criticism in recent weeks over their stance on Israel and their support for the BDS movement (boycott, divestment and sanctions) which targets Israel.

Resolution

House minority leader Kevin McCarthy threatened to force a vote in the House this week on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism.

Meanwhile, as President Donald Trump left Washington to attend a campaign rally in the border town of El Paso, Texas, negotiations resumed on Capitol Hill in a last-ditch effort at averting a government shutdown on Friday.

Talks have again stalled over immigration, with Democrats calling for a cap on the number of immigrants detained but Republicans arguing that immigrants charged with or convicted of crimes should be exempted from the cap.

Matt Albence, deputy director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, said such a move would be “extremely damaging” and “lead to disastrous results”, forcing authorities to release “criminal aliens” and gang members.

The government could shut down on Friday night if spending Bills are not agreed by congress.