“From this Benjamin: It’s not about the Benjamins,” Netanyahu said, responding to a February tweet by Omar purporting that U.S. politicians’ support for Israel was linked to campaign contributions.
Omar had tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” a reference to $100 bills.
“Those who seek to defame this great organization, AIPAC, those who seek to undermine American support for Israel, they must be confronted,” Netanyahu said. “Despite what they claim, they do not merely criticize the policies of the Israeli government. They do something else: They spew venom that has long been directed at the Jewish people. Again, the Jews are cast as a force for evil. Again, the Jews are charged with disloyalty. Again, the Jews are said to have too much influence, too much power, too much money.”
Omar, a Somali refugee and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, responded quickly to Netanyahu’s comments, tweeting: “This from a man facing indictments for bribery and other crimes in three separate public corruption affairs. Next!”
Later in the day, she chastised Netanyahu in a series of tweets for focusing on her rather than on the global rise of white supremacy.
Omar’s remarks loomed over the Washington gathering of pro-Israel advocates, as most speakers mentioned her in some way. Last month, she had suggested that AIPAC buys its political influence. A week later, she said some American supporters of Israel have “an allegiance to a foreign country.”
Her comments drew swift reproach from Republicans and Democrats, many of whom said the remarks perpetuated anti-Semitism tropes. To quell the backlash, House Democrats voted on a resolution to condemn all hate speech.
Before Netanyahu spoke, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman also invoked Omar, telling the crowd that it would always do what is needed to defend Israel. “And let’s be clear,” he added, “we will not do this for the Benjamins.”
Republicans, including President Trump, have sought to capitalize politically on the rift in the Democratic Party over Omar’s comments. Trump told reporters last week that Democrats were both “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who also spoke to the AIPAC conference Tuesday morning, assured the audience that support for Israel is “relentlessly bipartisan.”
“We will never allow anyone to make Israel a wedge issue,” Pelosi said.
Less than an hour later, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) used his speech to condemn not only Omar but also the larger Democratic Party.
He claimed that anti-Semitic tropes had “received new prominence by a sitting member of Congress.”
“I’m troubled that leading Democrats won’t call out problems in their own ranks,” McConnell said. “I’m troubled that a number of Democratic presidential candidates seem to be avoiding this very gathering.”
McConnell also chastised Pelosi for not bringing up Senate-passed legislation that would allow states to refuse business from companies that boycott Israel, known as the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement, suggesting that the “anti-Israel crowd has apparently paralyzed the House and scared them away from even considering our legislation.”
In her speech, Pelosi explicitly called out the BDS movement as “bigoted and dangerous.” Two Democrats last week introduced a resolution rebuking the global boycott movement against Israel.
Pelosi also said, to loud applause, “We should honor legitimate debate without questioning loyalty or patriotism.”