Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) has been a member of Congress for a little over a month. But for the second time, she has apologized for circulating what she herself called an “anti-Semitic trope."
“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,” she tweeted Monday.
The public outcry was much larger this time, but the episode and the apology carry parallels to another apology Omar offered Jan. 22. At the time, a 2012 tweet had surfaced in which she had said, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.”
Asked about it on CNN, Omar initially said, “Those unfortunate words were the only words I could think about expressing at that moment.” But, she added in another interview: “I don’t know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War, and I am clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”
By Jan. 22, Omar took to Twitter to apologize.
“In all sincerity, it was after my CNN interview that I heard from Jewish orgs. that my use of the word ‘Hypnotize’ and the ugly sentiment it holds was offensive,” she said. She added: “It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy is disavowing the anti-semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.”
That statement came in the context of the Gaza War.— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 22, 2019
It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy is disavowing the anti-semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive.
In both cases, Omar initially sought to deflect criticism by saying she wasn’t talking about Jewish people writ large — just about the actions of larger groups tied to Israel. In the January case, she said she was only talking about Israel’s conduct in wartime; this time, she says she only meant to target the pro-Israel lobby.
In each case, though, whatever her intentions, the language she chose carried clear historical connotations about very specific and well-trafficked anti-Semitic ideas — the idea that Jews use mind control to get what they want and the idea that they control Washington through their money.
Having seen what happened last time — and perhaps also noting Omar’s odd comments about Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) being “compromised” around a time some were floating innuendo about him being gay — Democratic leaders seem to have decided it was time to send a message and give Omar a very public dressing-down.
The reaction was swift and largely unified. We will find out just how chastened Omar is and how much more cautious she might be.