Middle East

‘It’s not about the Benjamins,’ Netanyahu says of U.S. support for Israel

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “it’s not about the Benjamins” as he hit back on Tuesday against any suggestion that U.S. politicians are paid to support Israel.

A tweet in February by Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar, a freshman legislator from Minnesota, was widely seen as echoing an anti-Semitic slur that Jews influence governments through money.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar wrote, using a slang term for $100 bills. She subsequently apologized, saying she was grateful for “Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history” of anti-Semitic references.

Netanyahu, addressing a Washington convention of the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, said via satellite from Tel Aviv: “Some people will just never get it. They’ll never understand why the vast majority of Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – support Israel.” 

He did not mention Omar by name.

“Take it from this Benjamin: it’s not about the Benjamins,” Netanyahu said. “The reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money, it’s because they share our values.”

A few hours later, Omar responded on Twitter: “This from a man facing indictments for bribery and other crimes in three separate public corruption affairs. Next!”

The Israeli attorney-general said on Feb. 28 that he intends to indict Netanyahu on corruption charges in three cases. Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing. 

In another tweet, Omar said: “White supremacist violence is on the rise globally. Right-wing extremists killed more people in the US in 2018 than any year since 1995. Anti-Semitic violence accounted for 58% of religious hate crimes. Yet the topic Netanyahu chose to focus on was… me.”

Netanyahu had been due to address AIPAC in person, but returned to Israel on Tuesday, two days ahead of schedule, after a rocket attack from Gaza wounded seven people in a village near Tel Aviv. His speech touched on numerous issues, including Gaza and Iran, before referencing Omar’s February tweet.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) at an event in the U.S. Capitol building in Washington, March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

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