Ilhan Omar says she’s sorry for suggesting America supports Israel in exchange for ‘Benjamins’
Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women in the U.S. Congress, “unequivocally” apologized on Monday after suggesting U.S. support for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobby group.
The Minnesota freshman has faced criticism for weeks over her positions on the Jewish state, but it boiled over late Sunday after she reacted to a Republican critic in a tweet. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar replied, referring to American $100 bills featuring the likeness of Benjamin Franklin.
When a user asked who Omar believes is paying U.S. politicians to support Israel, the former Somali refugee tweeted a one-word response—“AIPAC!”—referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.
The exchanges triggered uproar, with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi castigating Omar and demanding an “immediate” apology for using “anti-Semitic tropes” in her tweet, and several Democrats and Republicans assailing their colleague for her language. Omar obliged, issuing a statement acknowledging that anti-Semitism is “real” and expressing gratitude to colleagues “who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
“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,” she said. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”
Democrat Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee of which Omar is a member, 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 Democratic leaders to remove Omar from the committee.
President Donald Trump also weighed in, telling reporters that Omar “should be ashamed of herself. I think it was a terrible statement and I don’t think her apology was adequate.”
Several lawmakers said Omar was wrong about why lawmakers support Israel, arguing that the support is based on shared values and strategic interests, but many quickly applauded Omar for her apology. “Thank you for the apology and for hearing the voices of Jewish Americans,” tweeted Congressman Josh Gottheimer.
Gottheimer joined fellow House Democrat Elaine Luria in circulating a letter addressed to Pelosi and other leaders urging them to take “swift action” against anti-Semitic language by members. The letter’s authors, who are both Jewish, did not mention Omar by name, but their intent was clear.
“We must speak out when any member—Democrat or Republican—uses harmful tropes and stereotypes, levels accusations of dual loyalty, or makes reckless statements like those yesterday,” they wrote.
Omar has been critical of Israel’s government over its treatment of Palestinians. She has supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement that aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel.
Omar and fellow Muslim congressional freshman Rashida Tlaib’s support for the boycott has opened a breach in the Democratic Party and threatens to create a fissure in the ironclad U.S.-Israeli alliance. Last month, Omar expressed regret for saying in a 2012 tweet that Israel “has hypnotized the world” while carrying out “evil.”
AIPAC has formidable financial clout, and it prides itself on its influence in U.S. politics.