Ilhan Omar Apologizes to U.S. Jewish Leaders for 'Benjamins' Remark

Omar, who raised controversy over Washington's pro-Israel lobby, tells progressive leaders she wants to mend ties with the Jewish community

In this Jan. 16, 2019 file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington.
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File

WASHINGTON – Rep. Ilhan Omar apologized to Jewish groups, mostly from the left, for her tweets stating that support for Israel in D.C., and specifically the work of pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, is “all about the Benjamins.”

In an off-the-record conference call convened Tuesday overnight, Omar said she would like to start a process to mend ties with the American-Jewish community.

Omar’s office invited multiple Jewish groups to participate in the call, both in Washington and New York. The invitees mostly belonged to groups that oppose Israeli settlements in the West Bank and are generally affiliated with progressive, left-wing politics.

The invitation stated that the purpose of the call was for Omar to express an apology and hear how the ordeal impacted the Jewish community. 

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Omar had tweeted that U.S. support for Israel is "all about the Benjamins," referring to $100 bills, and suggested that AIPAC money is behind U.S.-Israel relations. She issued an apology last week after receiving criticism from members of Congress and other influential figures in her Democratic Party.

Her office wrote in the invitation: “We are convening this call in hopes that it is the first step to healing the damage her words have caused, building a better relationship with you and your organizations, and finding ways to work together on a number of different issues, including combating anti-Semitism and religious bigotry of all kinds.” 

Groups that define themselves as Zionist, work with Israeli politicians from the center-left bloc and support a two-state solution were also included in the conference. 

Groups invited included the Union for Reform Judaism, J Street, Americans for Peace Now, National Council of Jewish Women, Anti-Defamation League, Jewish Democratic Council of America, Bend the Arc and Jewish Social Justice Roundtable.

In response to the initial tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump said it was “terrible” what Omar said. “I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. What she said is so deep-seated in her heart,” he said.

Omar later apologized, writing: “Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.

“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,” Omar added.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi released a statement in response to the issue. “Anti-Semitism must be called out, confronted and condemned whenever it is encountered, without exception,” her statement said. It was co-signed by other members of the Democratic House leadership. “Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech, but Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes is deeply offensive,” it added.