Politics

Omar, After Controversial Comments, Is Slapped with New Anti-Semitism Allegations

House Democrat doubles down on her remarks despite bipartisan backlash

Image Credit: KEREM YUCEL/AFP/Getty Images

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) dug in her heels over her most recent controversial comments after once again facing bipartisan charges of anti-Semitism over the weekend.

Omar is one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress and is the first Somali-American in Congress.

She spoke at an event in Washington, D.C., last week — and complained about why it wasn’t “OK” for her to talk about the “political influence” Jewish Americans have had in “influencing” U.S. policies.

“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said, apparently referencing Israel.

“I want to ask why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the NRA [National Rifle Association], of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma — and not talk about a powerful lobbying movement that is influencing policy,” Omar added.

It didn’t take long for Republicans and Democrats alike to denounce Omar’s “anti-Semitic” remarks and demand an apology from her.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) is Jewish and the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on which Omar sits. He rebuked Omar on Friday and demanded that she apologize for her comments.

“I welcome debate in Congress based on the merits of policy, but it’s unacceptable and deeply offensive to call into question the loyalty of fellow American citizens because of their political views, including support for the U.S.-Israel relationship,” Engel said in a statement.

“We all take the same oath. Worse, Representative Omar’s comments leveled that charge by invoking a vile anti-Semitic slur,” Engel added. “Her comments were outrageous and deeply hurtful, and I ask that she retract them, apologize, and commit to making her case on policy issues without resorting to attacks that have no place in the Foreign Affairs Committee or the House of Representatives.”

Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Committee on Appropriations, also slammed Omar on Twitter on Saturday and Sunday for her “anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty.”

“Lawmakers must be able to debate w/o prejudice or bigotry. I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel,” Lowey wrote. “I urge her to retract this statement and engage in further dialogue with the Jewish community on why these comments are so hurtful.”

“No member of Congress is asked to swear allegiance to another country. Throughout history, Jews have been accused of dual loyalty, leading to discrimination and violence, which is why these accusations are so hurtful,” Lowey added. “I believe we can debate important policy without using offensive, painful stereotypes.”

Omar responded to Lowey’s criticism directly on Twitter on Sunday.

“Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman! I should not be expected to have allegiance/pledge support to a foreign country in order to serve my country in Congress or serve on committee. The people of the 5th elected me to serve their interest. I am sure we agree on that!” Omar wrote.

“I have not mischaracterized our relationship with Israel — I have questioned it and that has been clear from my end.”

Related: Omar Fires Back at Trump After He Said She Should Resign Over Her Anti-Semitic Tweets

“I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks,” Omar added. “Being opposed to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic. I am grateful to the many Jewish allies who have spoken out and said the same.”

“We must be willing to combat hate of all kinds while also calling out oppression of all kinds. I will do my best to live up to that. I hope my colleagues will join me in doing the same,” Omar concluded.

But this wasn’t the first time that Omar ignited controversy over “anti-Semitic” comments.

She fielded bipartisan backlash in February after she suggested on Twitter that money from pro-Israel lobbyists drove Republican support for — and the defense of — Israel.

In particular, Omar pointed to the lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). House Democratic leaders even released a statement condemning her remarks at the time.

The congresswoman formally apologized in a statement posted to Twitter with the words, “Listening and learning, but standing strong.”

But she warned, “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

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