Common Dreams: Don’t Let the Ilhan Omar Fight Hide Two Essential Truths

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Criticism of Israel—and AIPAC—isn't anti-semitic #StandWithIlhan

Common Dreams, March 11, 2019

The other night, I was watching an NBC News report on the thousands of endangered red-crowned cranes whose migration route takes them through the DMZ between North and South Korea. Amidst land mines and other dangers, they somehow manage to survive.

Right now, I feel a little bit like one of those cranes, walking perilously into the minefields, because the subjects at hand are Israel, the recent comments of freshman House member Ilhan Omar and the power of AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Kaboom.

You all know what happened – Rep. Omar, a Muslim-American citizen and Somali refugee, got into boiling water for remarks she tweeted about AIPAC and money. She also said that some pro-Israel activists in the United States “push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

Out of impolitic impetuosity and the too-easy glibness endemic to social media, and although she apologized and said she did not intend to, in the minds of many Omar managed to echo a couple of malignant tropes that have triggered hatred toward Jews for years and years: the notions of Jews dominating the world via cash and that Jewish-Americans somehow have a “dual loyalty” to the US and Israel.

Despite her apologies, a feeding frenzy ensued. A House resolution was proposed denouncing anti-Semitism without specifically naming Omar, yet the intent was there. But after sometimes heated but productive debate and negotiating, a broader Democratic resolution was introduced and overwhelmingly passed that not only condemned anti-Semitism but also Islamophobia (Rep. Omar herself is facing constant death threats and verbal attacks), racism and other assaults on religious freedom and gender.

Nonetheless and despite the fact that the slim 23 votes cast against the resolution were all from Republicans, Donald Trump had the disingenuous gall to announce the day after, "The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party."

This from the bitter clown who said there were good people on both sides when Charlottesville’s neo-Nazi demonstrators were shouting, “Jews will not replace us;” who told Jewish contributors, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians, that’s fine;” who depicted Hillary Clinton with a six-point Star of David and who ran a final 2016 campaign ad with grainy pictures of Jewish financiers – including George Soros, of course – representing alleged “global special interests.”

Trump, big surprise, panders to and deliberately stirs his own worst instincts and the hatreds of his base, without any semblance of or apparent need for consistency. Friday’s remarks were just another demonstration that whatever nonsense he thinks will create the most trouble for his perceived enemies is what will come flying forth from his bedeviled brain and mouth.

But. But. But. All of this is a distraction from a couple of realities lurking behind this whole contretemps.

First, no matter what it may deny, AIPAC is an enormously powerful lobby with undue influence on Congress and American foreign policy when it comes to the Middle East, the same kind of disproportionate and unfair sway on government we see coming from the NRA, Big Pharma and the insurance, banking, extraction and chemical industries – among others. “With that power,” Sheryl Gay Stolberg asked last week in The New York Times, “has AIPAC warped the policy debate over Israel so drastically that dissenting voices are not even allowed to be heard?”

Certainly, in almost every instance, AIPAC has backed whoever has been in power in Israel, including the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu, although it recently joined with the American Jewish Committee to condemn Netanyahu’s alliance with an extremist, racist political party aligned with the late ultranationalist Rabbi Meir Kahane.

A lot of AIPAC’s influence comes from the simple fact that while it declares itself bipartisan and does not make any political endorsements or contributions on its own—the law forbids doing so—many of its members make big political contributions and decide where to land their donations based on information provided by AIPAC.

“That is why,” former congressional staffer and AIPAC employee MJ Rosenberg recently wrote in The Nation, “AIPAC has a large national political operation. If it were not in the money-distribution business, it would simply rely on its legislative department to lobby for and draft legislation for members of Congress. Nor would its political director make a half-million dollars a year. In short, AIPAC’s political operation is used precisely as Representative Omar suggested.” ...
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