There has been much hubbub lately about antisemitism in the US. Much of this stems from Ilhan Omar’s recent tweet putting forward that the reason for much of the US backing of Israel is due to money given by big lobbies such as American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some have seen this as antisemitic. For those that are skeptical lets take a deeper dive.
The pro-Israel lobby is real and larger than most people probably know, this would not necessarily be a huge issue, but for the fact that bribery is legal in America. According to the Senate Office of Public Records, AIPAC spent over US$3.5 million in lobbying expenses in 2018. As a trend this figure has been steadily rising over the years, though there were a few years where the figures dropped slightly. Of note is the huge jump in expenditures from 2007 to 2008, more than doubling from $980, to $2.49 million. This is an increase of more than 2.5 times. This is also of note because this is when President Obama took office, who was constantly smeared as a foreign-born Muslim by the right, including Donald Trump, neither of which he is.
As a whole the Pro Israel contributors gave over $5 million last year, while the total money given by the Pro Israel lobby was $14.91 million. That is a lot of money to foster support for the right-wing Israeli government. While these groups don’t give money directly to the pockets of our politicians, they contribute to PACs that do. Most of these contributions do go straight to individuals, in 2018 a little over $12 million dollars went to individuals.
This is not to say I disagree with the ideas of all of these lobbies, though I think there should be no money in politics at all. Some of these groups are trying to stop real antisemitism and others are looking to foster peaceful resolutions to tensions between Israel and places like Iran and Palestine. However, a number of these lobbies simply carry water for the Netanyahu government and ignore human rights violations by the Israeli state, all the while paying our politicians to likewise turn a blind eye and smear anyone who brings these issues up as antisemitic.
This brings us to Ilhan Omar who is currently serving as a the congress woman representing Minnesota’s 5th district. Omar is Somali-American and a Muslim, which may be part of the reason some see her as such a threat. She has had two run ins with the establishment, especially the right condemning her for being antisemitic.
It all started with a tweet, as so many political controversies in the United States do nowadays. Omar tweeted, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel”. Though the tweet was from 2012, this issue didn’t come to a head until 2018 when raised by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 16, 2012
Most people are aware of the broad stereotypes of Jewish people as controlling the world, banks, business, and additional for being greedy, all of which are disgusting and hateful, I don’t think I really need to state that. However, I was not aware of the ignorant proposition of Jews as hypnotists, though it does keep in line with the erroneous notion that Jews use money to obfuscate their ‘nefarious’ plans and attain power.
I suppose it makes sense in the larger narrative of “Jews running the world”, however I never even thought about it. Omar has stated she was also unaware of this idea. Nevertheless, she was lambasted for her remarks, but I believe her heart is in the right place, you can look at her recent dealing with war-criminal Elliott Abrams.
Omar quickly apologized for any misunderstanding and was clear that she renounced any “anti-Semitic trope [she] unknowingly used”. She claimed that she was simply “addressing what was happening during the Gaza War and [I’m] clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.” This seemed to satisfy everyone, or at least placate them, at least until 2019.
In a recent tweet the Minnesota representative said, “Its all about the Benjamin’s baby”. This is a reference to a song by Puff Daddy. It seems clear that the representatives point was to show how money has a corrupting force in American politics, in this instance, specifically money from Israel.
It’s all about the Benjamins baby ? https://t.co/KatcXJnZLV
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 10, 2019
From what I have seen and heard from other progressives this seems like a straightforward comment. I would say all real progressives believe we should get money out of politics, though essentially no group is a monolith. Omar never mentioned the Jewish people, she never has, though to be fair this is a very complex issue as Israel is an ethnostate.
Of course the US-Israel relationship goes deeper than money. There is a geopolitical connection. Both counties benefit from their relationship. Just for example, the US has an ally in the Middle East and Israel gets money and an inordinate amount of weapons, not to mention support from America. America also being a majority Christian nation relishes in the idea of Israel. However, I would caution Israelis, because Christians, at least fundamentalist ones, believe you all get slaughtered in the end, most likely doomed to eternal torment. Also, they think the Jews killed their savior.
In spite of never attacking the Jewish faith, and perhaps because of her critiques of Israel, Omar was quickly lambasted for her remarks, essentially immediately labeled as antisemitic. Many people have accused her of such beliefs both on Twitter and in the media. Even her own party leadership has reprimanded her, a group of ‘top Democrats’ including Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi stated, “Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive.”
Despite these attacks from the right and even the mainstream left there were many who stepped up to defend Omar. One of these people was in fact a member of the Jewish community himself, Bernie Sanders.
Sanders called the new congresswoman to offer support. The Vermont Senator said, “Ilhan is a vital, important new leader in Congress,” he also committed to defending his new colleague that has come under attacks of her own based on her faith, especially because she is the first person in congress to wear a hijab, which makes her easily identifiable.
Many strong voices in the new media movement also came out in favor of the congresswoman from Minnesota. Many of these voices like Secular Talk, The Majority Report, The Progressive Voice, and a number of others have supported Omar since she started running for her seat based on her staunch progressive policies.
Omar quickly came out in apologized. Honestly I hoped that she wouldn’t do this. In my opinion she did nothing wrong. She could have said that and conveyed that she hopes everyone understand if they took it the wrong way. She could have explained herself more thoroughly, all of that would have been good for the dialogue. Instead she capitulated and did the politically correct thing, though I’m not tying to be too hard on her for this because she is in a very difficult situation and I do feel that her apology tweet was measured and still stated that she would not back down from holding nations accountable.
This being said, after conversations with colleagues and members of the Jewish community, I also understand how her words could be interpreted in a negative, even antisemitic way. I don’t totally agree with this, however I do think that we should take people’s concerns seriously. This sometimes means asking for forgivenss even when we don’t believe we did anything wrong. It’s about the willingness to understand others’ perspectives. Though some have made bad faith claims, especially those on the right who simply want to smear her and others with the label in order to hurt their movement.
I think Omar’s next tweet summed this up perfectly when she stated she was listening to people who had serious reservations about her comments, but were willing to listen and have and open, honest dialogue. It also conveyed that she was going to remain stalwart in fighting for a progressive ideology.
Listening and learning, but standing strong ?? pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
I also believe that if people are going to be critical of Omar’s statements, then they also need to be much more strong against real instances of antisemitism, otherwise we may fall in to the boy-who-cried wolf paradigm. As we have seen with issues like sexism, after Hilary Clinton constantly referred to Bernie Sanders supporters sexist, without any evidence.
Omar has seemed to have learned from how her statements were received and vowed to be more vigilant in choosing her words. However, I have heard little about Trump’s antisemitic language, not to mention that of many right-wing elected officials and pundents.
Omar saw this hypocrisy and call out the US President directly in a tweet, after he called for her to lose her job, or at least her committee appointments.
In a cabinet meeting Trump is quoted as saying, “Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress,” Trump said. “I think she should either resign from Congress or she should certainly resign from the foreign affairs committee.”
As with many of her fellow new members of congress, Omar squandered no time in clapping back at the basketball colored president.
You have trafficked in hate your whole life—against Jews, Muslims, Indigenous, immigrants, black people and more. I learned from people impacted by my words. When will you? https://t.co/EqqTyjkiNE
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 13, 2019
For those somehow unaware of the President’s brazenly antisemitic remarks Trump has uttered number of them. He has also retweeted things from white supremacist sites and accounts. He even defended the racist, bigots in Charlottesville who chanted “Jews will not replace us.” There is also video of him contributing to Jewish tropes in front of a room of Jewish people.
The right has a long and storied history of standing with Israel, but against Jews, this may be because most of the hard right wingers are fundamentalist Christians who believe that they need Israel to bring about the end times, which, again I feel I can’t state it enough, means the slaughter of the Jews. It has always seemed strange to me that you would desire to be friends with someone who is literally praying for your violent death, but I guess if you think it’s all fictitious then maybe you’d just take the support and not worry about it.
I have yet to see any evidence of intentional attacks against Jewish individuals or the faith more generally in any of Omar’s statements or tweets. What I have seen is her strength in trying to combat what she sees in Israel overstepping its boundaries, taking land that is not theirs, routinely killing journalists, medical personal, women, and children.
Of course, this is not black and white issue, as almost nothing is. Hamas and Hezbollah are not angelic groups of Boy and Girl Scouts, and their leadership is often despicable, holding sham elections. However, there is a great power imbalance and that I think is why many on the true left side of things so sympathize with the populations in Gaza and the West Bank.
I think this is much more nuanced than the typical conversation within the media however. It seems that the left is never allowed to critique Israel ever, and if anyone does dare to do so they will be eviscerated by the right, and even their own parties. If you want some examples you can look at the first Muslim to be elected to the United States congress, Keith Ellison and Jeremy Corbyn, in the UK. These attacks seem wholly unfounded and based on nothing less than disdain for the left, and in Ellison’s case, being a Muslim. However, one does not need to dig so deep into this record to see why the US and Israeli bond runs so deep. Much of it is tied to money and power, as most things are.
Before I discuss direct ties between the US and Israeli government, which I hope are used to push both nations to be come better and more democratic, we can clearly see some issues with even the Israeli lobby. Just after Omar had tweeted her now infamous statement Israeli-American journalist, Mairav Zonszein, tweeted a picture of an email sent by AIPAC. The email claimed that Omar’s comments were offensive and incorrect, then asked the reader to support the group financially. They were not the only group to do this, in fact of number of groups have used the ‘Omar Scandal’ as an excuse to ask for donations.
— Mairav Zonszein מרב זונשיין (@MairavZ) February 13, 2019
Private groups are not the only ones that are getting money and support from the US and its citizens however. Of course, being one of our top allies, the state of Israel gets in on the action as well.
In 2016 the Israel and the finalized a $38 billion dollar weapons deal. This was deal not only promised the Israelites much more firepower, but also guaranteed the US much more revenue. The deal stipulated that an increasing percentage of the Israeli funding go to US companies. It is unsurprising as Israel has been a target of the US for such demands. Israel is the largest recipient of American Military aid, at least from figures from 2015, by more than $1.8 billion dollars, slightly less than the next two nations combined (Egypt and Jordan). This is yet another example of moneyed interests in the US, in this case the military industrial complex, that exorbitant sums of money from the US government and other nations.
I actually think the relationship between the US and Israel actually contradicts the ignorant narrative that “Jews run the world”. I think money does, and I think that the US is using Israel as a proxy state in many ways. It helps them to have a strong ally in the Middle East. This is understandable and both nations benefit from the relationship, however if the United States is going to support a nation, they need to hold them accountable and make them better, not defend them when they are at fault, as Israel should do with the US.
Some may disagree with this, I think it’s pretty clear that Israel is in the wrong, again, both sides, especially the leaders are at fault. That being said, this is an argument that we could have. One thing I think that should be undebatable, freedom of speech. This brings us to our most recent incident which shows the issues with America’s special relationship with Israel.
The first piece of legislation that was picked up by the United States Senate in 2019 was not to bring the American people out of poverty even though more than half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. It wasn’t to give American’s healthcare, even though the US is the only devolved country with out a single payer system and upwards of 40,000 people die every year due to lack of healthcare, the number in nations with nationalized healthcare systems is zero. It wasn’t to deal with the mass shooting crisis in America, to get rid of government corruption, or even something as asinine as building the idiotic and gratuitous wall that Trump is drooling over. Instead it was a bill to support Israel.
S 1-Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019. This act, which has now passed the Senate after some struggle and waiting to be heard in the House, does a lot of things.
The most shocking thing it does is essentially restrict Americans free speech rights. It does so by allowing states to refuse to work with individuals who are part of the BDS movement, that is those who wish to push boycotts, divestment, and sanctions against Israel.
There have been cases of this already on the state level, more than have of American states already have anti BDS laws on the books, with some already being overturned by courts for violating the First Amendment. However, this is still a scary precedent to see pushed in the Senate, and passed by a large margin (77-23).
The bill also contains increased levels of aid to Israel. This is in the form of guaranteed financing of the Israeli military, to the tune of “not less than” $3.3 billion per year through fiscal year 2028. Even at its lowest that around $30 billion over the next decade. How are we gonna pay for that?
It also gives the Netanyahu government access to $3.8 billion in US loan guarantees through 2023. In addition the bill allows for the sale of high-tech weaponry and munitions by the president, such as precision guided missiles. There is more contained in the bill about required cooperation on many desires such as energy, agriculture, security, and so on.
Mind you I don’t think everything in this bill is bad, some of it even has the potential to quite beneficial to both nations and the world. That being said some of it could be quite harmful and certainly banning those who have issues with the way in which Israel handles itself as a nation from gaining lawful employment though government contracts is at best unconstitutional.
I don’t think that these issues are in any way clear-cut, minus the free speech establishment, though I do think that our military spending is out of control and we have already given Israel a large amount of money, weapons, and support. Again we should support our allies, however, we should criticize when they are committing human rights abuses, such as the killing of journalists and civilians.
The Israeli settlements are also illegal under international law according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, though some would dissent against this. In any case, the United States needs to hold itself and its allies to a higher standard.
SR 1 was not the only bill that was introduced regarding Israel however. House Resolution 72, ‘Rejecting anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in the United States and around the world’ was also referred to committee at the end of January.
The bill seems to be a jibe at Democrats, specifically Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. It is essentially a long list of quotes from various figures ranging from the benign to Louis Farrakhan who is clearly an anti Semitic bigot. It’s a hit piece and should be regarded as such. That being said, it is unsurprising, especially coming from the Republicans.
If you follow politics at all, you will know that, in America, most of the antisemitic tropes come from the far right. Some of the individuals that most ardently chastised Omar et al, just months before were making genuinely bigoted statements.
For instance Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House minority leader, vociferously called for both Omar and Tlaib to be punished for supporting the BDS movement. However, he not only tweeted, but pinned a tweet, alleging that George Soros, Tom Steyer, and Michael Bloomberg were trying to buy the 2018 midterm elections. Keep in mind this was right after Soros had received a bomb in the mail, like many other prominent political figures, from a radical Trump supporter. He quickly deleted the tweet, though he never apologized.
Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy posted this tweet AFTER a bomb was sent to Soros’ house. Up until a couple of minutes ago it was pinned to the top of his profile. pic.twitter.com/FEeKoPolHL
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) October 24, 2018
To be fair to McCarthy, though I don’t know why one would, he is not alone in his characterization of Soros as the bogyman, often with anti Semitic tropes. If you’ve got the time you can watch Trump’s speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition that is filled with Jewish stereotypes. If not just watch the first few minutes and get some prime examples of his propagation of antisemitic tropes.
I encourage everyone to watch it, though I know its hard to watch a bigoted child talk for 30 plus minutes. If you wanna see how a prominent Jewish Republican, who I disagree with on most of the issues, responded to this speech you can see his tweet.
Trump to the Republican Jewish Coalition: “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” What the hell does that mean?
— Ari Fleischer (@AriFleischer) December 3, 2015
My point in all of this is that it is all a game to most of these politicians, especially those on the far right. They couldn’t care less about Jewish people. They don’t even care about Israel except insofar as it will help build American empire.
This does not mean that I think that we shouldn’t be careful about the words we use simply because they don’t. I think we should and when we offend someone we should apologize and ask them to teach us how we can improve.
This is exactly what representative Omar has done. She has spoken with people in the Jewish community and asked them to teach her and help her get better, while many of those one the right who have criticized her comment have never batted an eye over their antisemitic comments and don’t care to, they don’t care.
While progressives should be caring and measured in what we say, we need to make sure not to cannibalize our own just because some hypocritical right-winger virtue signals on Twitter.
We should encourage each other to be better. We all make mistakes, and especially when those mistakes are wholly unintentional we need to move past them and focus on the true impediment to democracy and equality. A big part of that is money in politics and another is the vast majority of the Republican party.
Until we protect our own, of course lovingly guiding them when we feel they may be astray or ignorant on a certain topic, we will not make progress. We have to build each other up while attacking true bigotry and hate. We need real fighters like Ilhan Omar, not divisive liars like Trump and the Republicans.
Staff Writer: Jordan F.
Photo Credit: Cole Keister