(CNSNews.com) – Defending herself against allegations of a pattern of anti-Semitic statements, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said on Sunday that since a controversy blew up over comments she made in early 2019, she had been on a learning journey.
“I might have used words at the time that I didn’t understand were trafficking in anti-Semitism,” she said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“I wasn’t aware of the fact that there are tropes about Jews and money,” Omar said. “That has a been very enlightening part of this journey.”
Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is seeking support to eject Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, a move that will require a full vote of the House.
Omar in Sunday’s interview accused some of her congressional critics of being opposed to having an African or a Muslim in Congress at all, let alone on the committee.
Host Dana Bash listed some of the problems Republicans have raised about Omar, including:
–An accusation that “Israel has hypnotized the world” (in a Nov. 2012 tweet, later deleted)
–Describing Israel as an “apartheid” regime (inter alia, in a Jun. 2018 tweet)
–A Feb. 2019 insinuation that Israel’s allies in Congress were being bought off by the Israel lobby. (“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted, a song lyric referring to $100 bills. When asked by another Twitter user who she thought was “paying American politicians to be pro-Israel,” Omar responded: “AIPAC!”)
—Support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
–A comment appearing to equate Israel and the United States with terrorist groups. (“We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban,” read her Jun. 2021 tweet, which related to various situations under examination by the International Criminal Court).
“I want to give you a chance to respond to all of that, which they say is a clear pattern,” Bash said.
“Yes, I might have used words at the time that I didn’t understand were trafficking in anti-Semitism,” Omar replied. “When that was brought to my attention, I apologized. I owned up to it. That’s the kind of person that I am.”
Omar charged that the criticism was “politically motivated.”
“And, in some cases, it’s motivated by the fact that many of these members don’t believe a Muslim, a refugee, an African should even be in Congress, let alone have the opportunity to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee.”
Omar did not respond to the criticism about calling Israel an “apartheid” regime, or supporting BDS.
Bash recalled that after the “all-about-the-Benjamins” furor, Omar had issued an apology, in which she said she was “grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
“What did you learn?” Bash asked.
“A lot,” said Omar. “I certainly did not or was not aware that the word ‘hypnotize’ was a trope. I wasn’t aware of the fact that there are tropes about Jews and money. That has a been very enlightening part of this journey.”
String of controversies
After Omar in 2019 became one of the first two Muslim women to take up a seat in Congress, the Democrat caucus appointed her to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, despite criticism from some Republicans, who pointed to her earlier “hypnotized the world” post.
“The idea that a small group of Jews is controlling the world is right out of the classic anti-Semite playbook,” said a Republican Jewish Coalition spokesman, although Omar told CNN at the time, “I don’t know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans,” adding that they referred to a conflict then underway between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
When the “benjamins” row occurred weeks later, the Democratic leadership in a joint statement called Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” offensive, and called for an apology, which duly came.
But the matter did not end there, as Omar the following month got into an online spat with a senior Jewish Democratic colleague after saying at a town hall – referring to Israel – “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
“Anti-Semitic tropes that accuse Jews of dual loyalty are equally painful and must also be roundly condemned,” tweeted then-Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) “I am saddened that Rep. Omar continues to mischaracterize support for Israel.”
“Our democracy is built on debate, Congresswoman!” Omar responded. “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.”
Then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi sought to end the infighting in her caucus and several days later the House voted on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism – but also Islamophobia, and bigotry targeting “African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other people of color, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, and others.”
The row over the comment appearing to equate the U.S. and Israel with terrorist groups came more than two years later. Omar said her remark had been taken out of context, and the Democratic leadership again issued a statement in response to Omar’s choice of words.
“[D]rawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all,” the statement said.
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