Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat-Minnesota, center, walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 16, 2019.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat-Minnesota, center, walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington, Jan. 16, 2019.

WASHINGTON - A new U.S. congresswoman who is a Somali Muslim refugee apologized Monday after drawing widespread condemnation from both Republicans and her fellow Democrats for comments deemed anti-Semitic.

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democrat who has represented a district in the midwestern state of Minnesota for five weeks, had contended that a pro-Israel lobbying group in the United States, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, is buying off lawmakers to support the Jewish state.

She claimed in a string of Twitter comments on Sunday that the lawmakers' support for Israel was being driven because of financial support from AIPAC,  even though the nonprofit organization does not directly make campaign donations to U.S. politicians — although its members can make contributions.

"It's all about the Benjamins, baby," Omar tweeted during an interview with a journalist, using slang jargon for $100 bills with the picture of a U.S. founding father, Benjamin Franklin, on the currency. Omar then tweeted "AIPAC!" when another user asked who she thinks is paying U.S. politicians to be pro-Israel.

After extensive criticism of her remarks, Omar said Monday, "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. My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. 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."

She added that "at the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics," whether it is AIPAC, the National Rifle Association or the fossil fuel industry. "It's gone on too long and we must be willing to address it."

Omar is a proponent of the BDS movement - Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions - to pressure Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.  

AIPAC, however, is a non-profit organization that does not directly make campaign donations to U.S. politicians.

The American Jewish Committee called her comments about AIPAC "demonstrably false and stunningly anti-Semitic."

On his way to El Paso, Texas, late Monday aboard Air Force One, U.S. President Donald Trump commented on Omar's comments and apology.

"I think she should be ashamed of herself," he told reporters. "I don't think her apology was adequate."

Before Omar apologized, the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, said Omar's "use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.  We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments."

Pelosi tweeted that she spoke with Omar and that the two "agreed that we must use this moment to move forward as we reject anti-Semitism in all forms."

There was no immediate response to the criticism from Omar.

House Republican minority leader Kevin McCarthy and other Republican lawmakers have called on Democratic leaders to "take action" against Omar and a second Muslim congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, for their criticism of Israel.

Congressman Peter King, a New York Republican, called Omar's claims alleging AIPAC funding of U.S. lawmakers "absolutely shameful. It's immoral to be suggesting that somehow members of Congress are being paid off by Jews, by AIPAC. That goes right into the anti-Semitic bias, which has plagued the world for too long."

Several Democratic lawmakers also swiftly rebuked Omar.

Congressman Sean Patrick Mahoney of New York said, "My support for Israel is based on shared values and US nat'l security, not money." He said he was "disappointed" that Omar "is again tweeting dangerous and hurtful tropes."

Another New York Democratic congressman, Jerrold Nadler, called the comments by the 37-year-old Omar "deeply disappointing` and disturbing." He said U.S. officials are free to debate the relative influence of any group, but must be "extremely careful not to tread into the waters of anti-Semitism or any other form of prejudice or hate. Rep. Omar failed that test of leadership with these comments."

Congresswoman Donna Shalala of Florida said, "There is no place in our country for anti-Semitic comments. I condemn them whatever the source. To suggest members of Congress are 'bought off' to support Israel is offensive and wrong."

But Democratic Congressman Dan Kildee of Michigan said he did not view Omar's comments as anti-Semitic.

"We ought to be careful not to construe in that anything other than a concern about the fact that money has an undue influence on political decision-making," Kildee told CNN.

Another Democrat, Congressman Jim Himes of Connecticut, said, "It's perfectly legitimate to criticize Israel or the pro-Israeli lobby. Just please be careful to do it in a way that can't be interpreted as being anti-Semitic."