Rep. Omar apologizes for tweets on AIPAC’s influence

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WASHINGTON | Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar “unequivocally” apologized on Monday for tweets about the influence in Congress of an American organization that supports Israel, which drew bipartisan criticism and a rebuke from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In this Feb. 5, 2019 photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., arrives for President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The Minnesota Democrat said she had no intention offending anyone, including Jewish Americans, by suggesting that members of Congress are paid by Israel’s powerful allies to support the Jewish state.

“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 about my identity,” Omar tweeted. “This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

In a pair of tweets over the weekend, Omar criticized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, saying, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” invoking slang about $100 bills.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday insisted Omar immediately apologize.

“Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive,” Pelosi said in a statement issued by her office and signed by other Democratic leaders after a bipartisan backlash against the Minnesota Democrat. “We condemn these remarks, and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”

The statement marks Pelosi’s most stern public rebuke of a freshman representative who helped deliver the Democratic House majority and was the latest exposure of an increasingly tense split among Democrats over U.S.-Israeli policy ahead of the 2020 elections.

Backed by other House leaders and a pair of powerful House chairman, Pelosi’s extraordinary rebuke was the latest chapter in the education of the most famous stars in the celebrity-studded freshman class of lawmakers. None of the Democratic presidential hopefuls has weighed in publicly as their party’s House leaders chastised Omar.

Omar is one of two Muslim women to serve in Congress. Over the weekend, she responded to a tweet that quoted House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy urging punishment for Omar’s criticism of Israel. In her response, Omar wrote, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” invoking slang about $100 bills.

Asked on Twitter who she thought was paying members of Congress to support Israel, Omar responded: “AIPAC!”

AIPAC is a nonprofit organization that works to influence U.S. policy toward Israel. While it is barred from directly donating to candidates, it encourages its more than 100,000 members to do so and to be politically active.

One way the organization has made a mark on Congress is through expense-paid travel junkets to Israel, which are paid for by an affiliated nonprofit that does not have to disclose its donors. The popular weeklong excursions for members of Congress, their families and some senior staff can cost upward of $12,000 per person and are intended to “educate political leaders and influencers about the importance of the U.S. – Israel relationship through firsthand experiences.”

The nonprofit responded Sunday night: “We are proud that we are engaged in the democratic process to strengthen the US-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.”