Freshman Minnesota Democrat Ilhan Omar ignited a new controversy on Sunday night when she suggested GOP support for Israel is driven by campaign donations from a prominent pro-Israel group.
Omar singled out AIPAC, one of the most influential lobbying groups in Washington, as the source of those donations.
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Omar’s comments touched upon a long-running, and particularly ugly, thread of the anti-Semitic movement — that Jewish money fuels backing for Israel in the United States and elsewhere. A freshman Democrat, Max Rose of New York, said, “Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself.”
And the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee is a non-profit that doesn’t donate directly to candidates. AIPAC, however, does relentlessly push a pro-Israeli message on Capitol Hill and inside the executive branch, and its members donate to pro-Israel lawmakers and candidates while seeking to defeat those it considers a threat to U.S.-Israeli relations.
Omar has come under fire from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and other Republicans over her comments criticizing Israel, both remarks made since her election to Congress and long before she even began her political career. In November 2012, in the midst of an Israeli military campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Omar said on Twitter “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
Omar and freshman Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib — the first two Muslim women elected to Congress — have signaled support for the Palestinian-led BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) against the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians.
On Sunday night, Omar was responding to a tweet from prominent journalist Glenn Greenwald, who said, “Equating [Omar and Tlaib’s] criticism of Israel to Steve King’s long defense of white supremacy is obscene (McCarthy said it’s worse). In the US, we’re allowed to criticize our own government: certainly foreign governments. The GOP House Leader’s priorities are warped.”
In response to Greewald’s post, Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” followed by a music emoji, which suggested that money was calling the tune for McCarthy.
When asked to explain where the money she was referring to came from, Omar tweeted: “AIPAC.”
An Omar spokesman said the tweets “speak for themselves.”
Democratic leadership offices didn’t respond Sunday evening to requests for comment on Omar’s statements.
McCarthy and other Republicans have pressed Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and top Democrats to “take action” against Omar and Tlaib, saying he would do so if the GOP were the majority party.
McCarthy has noted that Democrats pressed for punishment for King — an Iowa Republican — over his racist comments.
Yet, King’s openly racist statements went on for years while he served in Congress, while Omar and Tlaib have been lawmakers for five weeks.
In response to Omar, McCarthy said, “One of my greatest honors is leading new members on a bipartisan trip to Israel to showcase the shared values and unbreakable bond between our countries.” McCarthy and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) have repeatedly led congressional delegations to Israel, trips paid for by a AIPAC’s charitable arm.
McCarthy added: “Anti-Semitic tropes have no place in the halls of Congress. It is dangerous for Democrat leadership to stay silent on this reckless language.”
In its own statment, AIPAC said, “We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship. Our bipartisan efforts are reflective of American values and interests. We will not be deterred in any way by ill-informed and illegitimate attacks on this important work.”