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Freshman Democrat Omar Apologizes After Pelosi Pressure Over Anti-Semitic Remarks

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Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, (D) apologizes after being chastised by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats for her apparent anti-semitic comments. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

Freshman House Democrat Ilhan Omar, one of the few Muslims in Congress, said Monday she “unequivocally” apologizes for tweets that were condemned by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats as anti-Semitic.

“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,” Omar of Minnesota wrote on Twitter. “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.” She was referring to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the National Rifle Association.

Omar, in messages on Twitter Sunday night, implied that U.S. policy on Israel was influenced by money and by AIPAC. She also previously criticized the government of Israel.

Pelosi and other House Democratic leaders said in a statement Monday, “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.” They added, “We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”

Pelosi was joined in the message by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, third-ranking Democrat James Clyburn of South Carolina and three other members of House Democratic leadership.

Pelosi of California also said on Twitter that she had talked with Omar and that they agreed to “use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms.”

Omar’s Sunday night tweets drew immediate criticism from lawmakers in both parties. A few Republicans have called for her to be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Good that some Dems have condemned the disgraceful anti-Semitic remarks of Rep. Omar—but their words are empty unless Dem leaders remove her from the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-ranking House Republican, said on Twitter. “No one with her anti-Semitic views should be allowed to represent U.S. foreign policy on that committee.”

The chairman of that committee, Democrat Eliot Engel of New York, issued a statement calling Omar’s comment “shocking,” and he promised to “shine a light on the evil of anti-Semitism and the danger it poses.” There has been no movement from Democratic leadership to remove Omar from her committee assignments.

Omar, 36, acknowledged the criticism in her Twitter message on Monday. “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 for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize.”

Omar is one of a handful of high-profile freshmen Democratic women, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who often use social media to speak to their followers and lash out at criticism. Pelosi has celebrated the general enthusiasm of these new members and has taken a more subtle approach to address some of their missteps.

When Tlaib used profanity on the day she was sworn in to threaten the president with impeachment, Pelosi said she has a “generational” aversion to such language, but she’s “not in the business of censorship.” In private conversations, Pelosi has won Ocasio-Cortez over as an ally after the self-described Democratic socialist participated in a climate change rally in Pelosi’s office last year.

The Democratic pushback on Omar’s most recent comments also underscores the ideological diversity in the party. Moderate Democrats who will be seeking re-election in closely divided districts in less than two years joined the chorus of outrage over Omar’s remarks.

New Jersey’s Josh Gottheimer said Omar hasn’t accepted his offer to meet with her to talk about the damage that can be done by reinforcing negative tropes. “There is absolutely no place for this rhetoric in Congress — or anywhere,” Gottheimer tweeted.

Max Rose, who won a tight race in New York, said the Democratic Party and the U.S. should be a place where “we celebrate the diversity of our people.”

Anthony Brindisi, who also narrowly won his New York swing district, called Omar’s comments “disgraceful and blatantly anti-Semitic.” He said he supports Israel “because of our common values.”

Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, said lawmakers need to avoid anti-Semitic language.