After criticising Israel, Ilhan Omar faces a familiar establishment-wide smear campaign

US congresswoman Ilhan Omar
John McEvoy

On 10 February, US congress member Ilhan Omar criticised the influence of Israeli lobby group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on US politics. And the US political and media establishment quickly drew the line on which issues can and cannot be addressed.

“It’s all about the Benjamins, baby”

Omar is a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and has been a vocal critic of Israel’s actions in Palestine.

Kevin McCarthy, Republican leader in the House of Representatives, likened Omar’s views on Israel to “white supremacy”. He also told the Democratic Party that he would “take action” against Omar if the party refused to do so.

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Journalist Glenn Greenwald then wrote:

It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.

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And in response to McCarthy’s threats and Greenwald’s statement, Omar quoted rap artist Puff Daddy by saying “It’s all about the Benjamins [$100 bills] baby”:

Omar then clarified her comments, claiming that suppression of criticism of Israel is directly linked to AIPAC’s influence on US politics:

This shouldn’t be a particularly controversial statement. In fact, as the Intercept reported on 11 February, the pro-Israel lobby itself has been “caught on tape boasting that its money influences Washington”. And in 2005, AIPAC’s then foreign policy director Steve Rosen told pundit Jeffrey Goldberg:

You see this napkin? In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of seventy senators on this napkin.

Why, then, within hours, was Omar pressured to issue this apology?

The establishment response

Wide sections of the US political and media establishment responded to Omar’s comments with venom, accusing her of antisemitism. Donald Trump suggested she should resign, saying: “She should be ashamed of herself”.

Journalist Batya Ungar-Sargon, meanwhile, tweeted:

Chelsea Clinton, daughter of Bill and Hillary, agreed:

Dan Shapiro, President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, wrote:

The Washington Post, meanwhile, ran with the headline: Ilhan Omar’s tweets were appalling. What happened next was inspiring.

Venomous

The attacks on Omar weren’t ‘inspiring’, though. They were venomous.

To make things clear, journalist Corey Robin explained the function of a lobby:

And that lobby, according to Open Secrets, is spending increasing amounts of money on influencing US politics:

Abby Martin of the Empire Files, meanwhile, outlined how not all lobbying is treated equally:

And journalist Michael Tracey noted how not all political interference is treated equally:

He also highlighted the irony of the entire situation:

And the following thread is an account on how AIPAC operates:

Bad faith

Some commentators, meanwhile, suggested that those accusing Omar of antisemitism were doing so in bad faith. Journalist Dan Cohen, for example, had to remind Ungar-Sargon that Israel doesn’t represent all Jewish people:

Greenwald also jumped in with an important comment on the power dynamics in Washington:

And in particular, he questioned Clinton’s choice of words:

Antisemitism

Omar’s treatment recalls the UK political and media establishment’s smears against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

In the US, as in the UK, antisemitism must be confronted wherever it appears. But confusing it with valid criticism of Israel and AIPAC only lightens the term and helps to make antisemitism all-the-more dangerous. Such confusion must stop.

Featured image via Loria Shaull

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