Ilhan Omar: US Politics Is Embroiled In Its Own Anti-Semitism Row – Here's What It's All About

Ilhan Omar has faced a backlash for comments about Israel.

While Labour’s anti-Semitism row continues to rumble on, the US has been embroiled in its own version over the past week.

An ugly backlash erupted within the Democratic Party over comments made by Ilhan Omar, a recently-elected congresswoman from Minnesota.

There is an ongoing dispute about how to deal with the fall-out, and of course, Donald Trump has waded in by tweeting his disgust about how it’s being dealt with – despite well-documented issues with anti-Semitism among his support base.

The controversy has echoes of the anti-Semitism row that has engulfed UK politics, with Omar’s outspoken comments about Israel similar to those voiced by some on the British left-wing.

Who is Ilhan Omar?

Omar, 37, became one of the first Muslim women to sit in Congress – along with Rashida Tlaib, who represents Detroit – when she was elected last year.

Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, her family were forced to flee the civil war and spent four years of her childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya, before settling in Virginia in 1995.

What did she do?

Last month, she apologised after tweeting that American political leaders defending Israel was “all about the Benjamins”, a reference to $100 banknotes featuring Benjamin Franklin and the financial clout of the pro-Israel lobby.

At the time, she issued a statement acknowledging that anti-Semitism is “real” while expressing gratitude to colleagues “who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes”.

However, she has faced a further backlash this week after making comments about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a powerful lobbying group that advocates pro-Israel policies.

She said: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.

“Why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the [National Rifle Association], of fossil fuel industries, or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobby that is influencing policy?”

In response to the criticism she faced, she tweeted on Sunday: “Being opposed to [Israel’s prime minister Binyamin] Netanyahu and the occupation is not the same as being anti-Semitic.”

What’s been the reaction?

Senior Democrats condemned her remark, but the party has itself been accused of antipathy to Israel and Jews.

To try to counter this, Nancy Pelosi, the Democrat speaker of the House of Representatives, has prepared a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. However, backroom arguments mean the wording has so far failed to materialise, and the first draft was reworked to also include condemnation of anti-Muslim comments.

Some observers and politicians, however, have pointed out others have said similar things about Israel, but have not faced the same backlash Omar has. Moves to reprimand the Congresswoman have been resisted by some of her recently elected colleagues, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“Like some of my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus, I am concerned that the spotlight being put on Congresswoman Omar may put her at risk,” Kamala Harris, the senator for California running for the Democratic Party presidential nomination told reporters. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, who want to face Trump in the 2020 election, have also voiced their support for Omar.

What did Donald Trump say?

Republicans, right-wing commentators and Fox News have seized on her comments, and so has Trump. He said it was “shameful” the Democrats haven’t taken a stronger stand against anti-Semitism.

In February he called on Omar to either resign from Congress or step down from a House committee assignment.

“I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the House Foreign Affairs Committee,” the president told reporters on Tuesday.

The president also claimed Omar’s apology was “lame” and that her comments are “deep-seated in her heart.” “She didn’t mean a word of it,” Trump said.