US lawmaker apologizes after House leaders condemn comments as anti-Semitic

US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a news conference to call on Congress to cut funding for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), at the US Capitol in Washington, US, February 7, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 February 2019
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US lawmaker apologizes after House leaders condemn comments as anti-Semitic

  • Omar was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for saying on Twitter that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, was paying US politicians to support Israel

WASHINGTON: Democratic lawmaker Ilhan Omar apologized on Monday after party leaders condemned her comments about the pro-Israel lobby in the United States as using anti-Semitic stereotypes.
“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, who was elected for the first time to the US House of Representatives in November, said in a statement.
“My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole,” she said, adding that she “unequivocally” apologized.
Omar was criticized by both Republicans and Democrats for saying on Twitter that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, was paying US politicians to support Israel.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic House leaders condemned her remarks earlier, calling for an apology and saying anti-Semitism must be confronted and condemned.
“Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” they said. “But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.”
Chuck Schumer, the Senate Democratic leader, said on Twitter, “Rep. Omar’s use of anti-Semitic stereotype was offensive and irresponsible.”
President Donald Trump later criticized Omar’s remarks and said her apology fell short.
“I think she should be ashamed of herself. I think it was a terrible statement. And I don’t think her apology was adequate,” Trump told reporters en route to El Paso for a speech to press his case for a wall along the US-Mexico border.
Even before her most recent comments, Republicans had criticized Democrats for appointing Omar to the House Foreign Affairs Committee and called for her to be removed from her seat because of past statements critical of Israel.


Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return

Updated 20 June 2019
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Rohingya greet UN refugee day amid doubts on return

  • Muted celebrations in crowded Bangladesh camps, home to 1.1m Myanmar exiles
  • Cox’s Bazar — site of the world’s largest refugee settlement — observed the day with programs and festivities

COX’S BAZAR: More than 1.1 million Rohingya exiles in heavily congested camps at Cox’s Bazar observed UN World Refugee Day on Thursday despite continuing uncertainty over their return to Myanmar. 

Since 2000, UNHCR has observed June 20 as World Refugee Day and this year appealed to participants to “take a step with refugees around the world.” 

War and ethnic, tribal and religious violence are the main causes of refugees fleeing their countries, with two-thirds of all exiles worldwide coming from five countries: Syria, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Myanmar and Somalia.

Cox’s Bazar — site of the world’s largest refugee settlement — observed the day with programs and festivities, although there is still no sign of an end to the Rohingya plight. 

A colorful rally at Kutupalang camp was attended by US envoy Earl Miller, UNHCR country representative Steven Corliss and government officials. Later, dignitaries met with Rohingya community leaders and discussed their demands. 

About 750,000 Rohingya have fled their northern Rakhine homeland since August 2017 when a so-called “clearance operation” orchestrated by the Myanmar military forced them to take shelter at Kutupalang camps in Cox’s Bazar. 

In 1977 and 1978, about 200,000 Rohingya sought refuge in Bangladesh after fleeing Myanmar. 

Between 1989 and 1991, an additional 250,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh when a military crackdown followed a popular uprising and Burma was renamed Myanmar. In 1992, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal that led to thousands of Rohingya returning to Rakhine. 

The Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh resumed in 2016 when a military crackdown followed an attack on a border post in which several police offers were killed. About 87,000 refugees fled to Bangladesh. 

A repatriation deal was signed between Bangladesh and Myanmar in late 2017, but not a single Rohingya returned. 

Finally, Nov. 15, 2018, was agreed as the new date to start repatriation, but the Rohingya said that conditions made it impossible for them to return. 

Recent violence in Rakhine between the Myanmar military and a militant Buddhist group has cast fresh doubts on the refugees returning in the near future. 

The Rohingya exodus has changed the demographic of Ukhia and Teknaf subdistricts of Cox’s Bazar. 

In 2011, around 500,000 people lived in the two areas. Now more than double that number of Rohingya refugees shelter there, turning the host community into a minority. 

The Bangladesh government and UN aid agencies together asked for $920 million to run humanitarian operations in the camps this year. But only a quarter of this amount has been raised. 

Abul Kalam, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner, said that authorities are hoping for an increase in funding in coming days. 

“Some big donors such as the EU, UK, Japan and so on are yet to come up with their pledges. I believe it will happen soon and humanitarian operations here at Cox’s Bazar will not decline,” he told Arab News.