U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar is drawing fresh criticism over comments she made earlier this week about Jewish Americans’ support for Israel.
“I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” Omar said at a forum at a Washington, D.C., bookstore, as first reported by Jewish Insider.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said Omar insulted the patriotism of Jewish Americans. “I’m appalled,” he said.
Omar, a Democrat who represents Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District that encompasses Minneapolis and a sliver of the western metro suburbs, was traveling Friday and could not be reached for comment, her spokesman Jeremy Slevin said.
Slevin released a statement to the Star Tribune, in which he said Omar “has consistently spoken out about the undue influence of lobbying groups for foreign interests of all kinds and her comments were about just that. To suggest otherwise is an inaccurate reading of her remarks.”
The latest round of criticism underscores Omar’s precarious political position just months after her election as the first Somali-American member of Congress. Her tenure has been marked by a series of provocative statements that have brought national scrutiny, attacks and often retractions and apologies from Omar.
Ken Jacobson, deputy national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called Omar’s latest comments “extremely disturbing.”
Since the founding of nation-states, anti-Semites have questioned the loyalties of Jews in those nations, he said. “It’s a classic anti-Semitic theory about Jews and one of the major ways to isolate the Jewish people.” In the most extreme example, the Third Reich proclaimed that Jews could not be real Germans, Jacobson said.
In the United States, famed flier Charles Lindbergh made a speech in 1941 in Des Moines, in which he alleged American Jews with divided loyalties were pushing the country into war with Germany.
Omar has now faced condemnation twice in less than a month for comments that are widely regarded as pushing historically anti-Semitic rhetoric.
She apologized in February after suggesting that money drives support for Israel, which drew rebukes from Jewish leaders and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
“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 wrote in a statement at the time.
In his statement to the Star Tribune, Slevin also said that at her appearance this week in Washington, Omar had “reiterated the remorse she feels for her comments last month — and the pain she knows they caused. As she said in her apology, we must distinguish between criticism of a particular faith and fair critiques of lobbying groups.”
Omar has also faced sharp criticism over her support for a movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. She also apologized earlier this year for a 2012 tweet saying “Israel has hypnotized the world,” which also drew criticism for using the anti-Semitic stereotype that Jews have unseen and undue influence over world events.
Jennifer Carnahan, chairwoman of the Minnesota Republican Party, said in a statement Friday: “Another week, another anti-Semitic comment from Omar.”
U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, D-Minn., said he is disappointed by Omar’s latest statements.
“There is a legitimate and important conversation to be had about human suffering throughout the world, about [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies, and the influence of money and lobbyists on members of Congress,” said Phillips, who is Jewish. “Unfortunately, Rep. Omar’s choice to continue speaking in this divisive manner, with broad statements about one group and one nation, undermines the opportunity to begin that conversation.”
Said U.S. Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn.: “There is no place for rhetoric or actions that divide us in our communities or in the halls of Congress.”
Minnesota’s other Democrat in Washington, U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, did not respond to requests for comment.
U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., “does not agree with these comments,” said Elana Ross, a spokeswoman for the senator. “You can be American and care about other countries, whether it’s Israel or Ethiopia or Canada — and there’s nothing wrong with that.”
Ed Shelleby, a spokesman for Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said that as the senator has said before, “words have consequences, and negative stereotypes are unacceptable.”
Hunegs said that during a recent Minneapolis meeting with Omar, he brought a picture of the grave of his cousin, Gerald “Sonny” Cohen, killed in action in France in November 1944.
“This was an illustration of the profound patriotism of American Jews,” he said. “The point being, don’t insult our patriotism. And guess what? She insulted our patriotism.”
Jacobson, of the Anti-Defamation League, said Omar is losing the benefit of the doubt from organizations like his.
“We want to educate any member of Congress or someone else who has views we find problematic. We still hold that perspective,” Jacobson said. “It becomes more difficult as it seems not really an isolated incident but a pattern. We’re not giving up on it,” he said.
Star Tribune reporter Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.