As you surely know by now, the United States political class is talking about whether AIPAC, the leading pro-Israel group the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, wields its influence in Congress using money.
Last night Glenn Greenwald seized on the news that House minority leader Kevin McCarthy intends to investigate two Muslim congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, over their criticisms of Israel and remarked —
It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans
Ilhan Omar responded with her usual pithiness.
It's all about the Benjamins baby 🎶 https://t.co/KatcXJnZLV
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 10, 2019
And set off a firestorm of criticism. Batya Ungar-Sargon of the Forward led the rush against Omar for alleged anti-Semitism.
“Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. Bad form, Congresswoman. That’s the second anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.
Omar then responded with one word: “AIPAC!”
Ungar-Sargon presumed to speak on behalf of American Jews. “Please learn how to talk about Jews in a non-anti-Semitic way. Sincerely, American Jews.”
The Democratic Party establishment is upset. Chelsea Clinton retweeted Ungar-Sargon during the Grammys.
Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.
Howard Dean said that Omar went “too far.” He echoes NY Congressman Jerrold Nadler (per Sam Stein): “It is deeply disappointing and disturbing to hear Representative Ilhan Omar’s (MN) choice of words in her exchange with a journalist yesterday, wherein she appears to traffic in old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.”
A lot of others have joined in the shaming of Omar. The story has been on CNN and is trending on twitter, and Haaretz has covered it too. “That is a reprehensible response,” said Jane Eisner formerly of the Forward. Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL agreed, saying Omar was echoing a “tired anti-Semitic trope about Jews and money.”
Words matter Rep.
@IlhanMN. Anti-Semitism is on the rise in the US and abroad. The use of this tired anti-Semitic trope about Jews and money is inappropriate and upsetting. As Americans and Jews, we expect our politicians to condemn bigotry, not fuel it.
Ungar Sargon continued her criticisms of Omar as an anti-Semite:
If your “criticism of AIPAC” can be replaced with a cartoon octopus with a hook nose, you need a lesson in Jewish history. And if you’re out here saying “Yeah, using the word Benjamins was bad BUT” you’re abetting the normalization of anti-Semitism by an elected official…
To all the people in my mentions and DMs who think that S1 was the work of AIPAC: I have a bridge I want to sell you. Either way, OF COURSE it’s possible to critique AIPAC et al in a non-anti-Semitic way. This ain’t it, chief.
The remarkable thing is the pushback that the anti-Semitism police have gotten from journalists and experts on US policy. AIPAC is simply too important a force in US politics for sensible people to take the criticism of Omar for merely speaking out, lying down. Khaled Elgindy of Brookings:
It seems I’m in the market for a bridge. Please enlighten us on AIPAC’s non-influence in Congress.
Mitchell Plitnick said Ungar Sargon doesn’t speak for him. So did Ira Glunts. Michael Tracey responds:
Ignore the histrionic idiots making false insinuations. Rational people understand that AIPAC and allied donors have outsized influence on Congress, and seek to dictate policy as it relates to Israel.
Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is under fierce attack from Chelsea Clinton and other Republican and Democratic establishment figures for voicing a fundamental truth: much of Congress is muzzled when it comes to Israel by the powerful lobby group AIPAC.
Yousef Munayyer directs people to AIPAC’s website.
Uh, AIPAC is pretty explicit about how it acts as a vehicle for funding for members of Congress. It is right on its website
His link is to an AIPAC Club where members must spend $2500 a year on pro-Israel politics.
Remi Brulin links to Tom Friedman’s column on the topic that we have often cited:
Here is how Tom Friedman phrased it in 2011: “I hope that Israel’s prime minister understands that standing ovation he got in Congress this year wasn’t for his politics. That ovation was bought & paid for by the Israel lobby.”
Anshel Pfeffer of Haaretz correctly says that the Jeremy Corbyn argument has come to the U.S. but also accuses Omar of anti-Semitism; and former Obama ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro says he is right. Pfeffer:
In the space of just 6 hours the whole Corbyn shitshow c.2015 has crossed the pond. The right-wing is scandalized. Jews are hurt. The soft-left is hoping she didn’t really mean it. The hard-left is in “criticizing Israel isn’t antisemitic” mode and antisemites having a field-day.
Mairav Zonszein says that Omar is right. “’Democratic Congresswoman’s words suggesting money is behind pro-Israel stances…’. That is exactly right though.”
Here is my report on Stephanie Schriock of the pro-choice group Emily’s List describing the role of AIPAC in scripting Congressional positions on Israel for donations (at J Street three years ago). “Because this is how we raise money” from the “Jewish community.”
I started as a finance director. I worked for candidates in the 90’s as their finance director. And I would come on a congressional race, I am a twenty-something kid who also knows nothing beyond the state borders, let alone overseas, and you thought about where you are going to go to raise the money that you needed to raise to win a race. And you went to labor, you went to the choice community, and you went to the Jewish community. But before you went to the Jewish community, you had a conversation with the lead AIPAC person in your state and they made it clear that you needed a paper on Israel. And so you called all of your friends who already had a paper on Israel – that was designed by AIPAC – and we made that your paper.
This was before there was a campaign manager, or a policy director or a field director because you got to raise money before you do all of that. I have written more Israel papers that you can imagine. I’m from Montana. I barely knew where Israel was until I looked at a map, and the poor campaign manager would come in, or the policy director, and I’d be like, ‘Here is your paper on Israel. This is our policy.’ We’ve sent it all over the country because this is how we raise money. … This means that these candidates who were farmers, school teachers, or businesswomen, ended up having an Israel position without having any significant conversations with anybody [but AIPAC]…
Sitting on the dais of the the Sixth and I Synagogue in Washington, Roger Cohen asked Schriock what would happen if a candidate didn’t take the AIPAC position on Israel?
“You thought that the money was going to be gone.”
Just going to dry up? Cohen said. “Yes,” Schriock said. These are candidates, she said, who “really have to get those $5000 PAC checks from the pro-Israel PAC in St. Louis.”
Schriock said that J Street’s arrival had finally created another position on Israel contra AIPAC.
J Street was for the Iran Deal, AIPAC was opposed. J Street was against S.1, the anti-boycott legislation passed by the Senate last week; AIPAC was for it. But to be clear, J Street opposes Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) which Omar supports. And J Street supports continued aid to Israel at the tune of $3.8 billion a year. I hope “tune” is not an anti-Semitic trope!
In her courage and plainness, Omar has brought important issues about the role of the Israel lobby to a national discussion that even Walt and Mearsheimer were not able to catalyze. We should all be grateful.
Thanks to James North and Scott Roth.