politics to go

Omar on Jews and ‘the Benjamins’: Please don’t say I didn’t warn you


See also: Oh, Omar! for this story's background and reaction

The hatred spewed by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has gone from bad to worse. In a Sunday evening Twitter rant, she suggested that Republicans support Israel because rich Jews bribe GOP members of Congress through AIPAC.

Omar’s diatribe was motivated by GOP criticism, first by Long Island Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin, then by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California.

Two weeks ago, Zeldin introduced House Resolution 72, which states that the House of Representatives rejects anti-Semitic and anti-Israel hatred. The introduction to the resolution points to anti-Semitism from different elements of American society, specifically naming Louis Farrakhan, Students for Justice in Palestine, Linda Sarsour and Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers.

Zeldin also mentions two members of Congress — Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI): “Whereas, on Nov. 16, 2012, Representative Ilhan Omar, who also supports the BDS movement, tweeted, ‘Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel’.” 

HR 72 ends with “Now, therefore, be it Resolved; That it is the sense of the House of Representatives that — That the House of Representatives rejects anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in the United States and around the world.”

Zeldin’s resolution should have been uncontroversial. It doesn’t ask for a border wall or tax cuts, only for the House to reject hatred. But HR 72 is a rejection of a significant part of the Democratic Party base — members of the extreme left who are not fans of Jews, along with two brand new members of the Democratic Caucus. Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders declined to bring Zeldin’s bill to the floor, or to condemn the Democratic freshmen for their anti-Semitism.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy demanded that Democratic leaders at least rebuke progressive freshmen for their anti-Semitism. He pointed out the GOP’s punishment of Iowa Republican Rep. Steve King: after King questioned why the terms “white nationalist” and “white supremacist” were considered offensive, he was stripped of all his committee assignments by the McCarthy and the GOP caucus leadership.

“There’s situations in our conference where a member does something that is wrong — I think you’ve seen from my own actions that I take action,” McCarthy said. “I think when they stay silent, they are just as guilty.”

McCarthy added that he believes it’s possible to be critical of the Israeli government without being anti-Semitic, but Omar and Tlaib’s vociferations were over the line. And “if it is allowed to happen in the halls in Congress, it would only perpetuate the problem and grow to something much more than we would desire it to be.”

McCarthy warned that if the Democrats didn’t act, he would.

“I think this will not be the end of this, and if they do not take action, then I think you will see action from myself,” he said.

Two days later, Glenn Greenwald, most famous for publishing secret American documents supplied to him by Edward Snowden, tweeted support for Omar. “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel,” the tweet said. “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”

Omar responded with, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” a reference to $100 bills. The Minnesota representative was referring to an old, and particularly disgusting, claim of anti-Semites — that Jewish money fuels American support for Israel.

One response to Omar asked, “Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel.”

She answered with one word: “AIPAC!”

As a not-for-profit organization, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee doesn’t donate directly to candidates. Its members do give money to political campaigns, as do members of any other advocacy group, from labor unions to the Iranian American Political Action Committee (IAPAC). Interestingly, AIPAC’s influence amongst Republicans has diminished since they tried to get the party to change its 2016 platform because it was too pro-Israel.

Freshman Rep. Max Rose, Democrat from Staten Island and Brooklyn, told his colleagues, “Congresswoman Omar’s statements are deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself.”

Former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley added her condemnation, tweeting Omar: “To see this at the UN was a fight every day. This CANNOT be tolerated in our own Congress by anyone of either party. In a time of increased anti-Semitism, we all must be held to account. No excuses.”

• • •

Regular readers know I have been warning of anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party for over a decade.  And on Monday, after being pressured by Jewish Democrats in the House, the party leadership finally addressed an anti-Semitic incident.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) and Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D-MA) issued a statement condemning all anti-Semitism and calling “upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) made a passive-aggressive statement. While condemning Omar’s words, continuing his insensitivity toward Jewish causes that began with his support of the Iran deal, he didn’t blame Rep Omar. Instead, as Omar did, he promoted a false canard about Jews and took the opportunity to stereotype a different group. “And even as this is the case,” wrote Nadler, “one must also note and be concerned about the concerted right-wing tactics aimed at advancing their agenda by distracting and dividing those committed to equality and social justice.  These tactics have painted some unfairly and we must guard against this as well, because to unfairly accuse someone of a particular hatred undermines the legitimacy of the condemnations when they are truly warranted.”

Within hours after the leadership demand, Rep Omar apologized — well, she sort of apologized — and added a “but” which negated the apology.

“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,” she said on Twitter. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole.” Then came the BUT. “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

Anti-Semites complain about AIPAC being this huge monstrous lobby — but it’s not true. They don’t donate money directly to candidates, and when it comes to lobbying they are relatively tiny. Based on 2017 Open Secrets data, AIPAC lobbying spending doesn’t even make the top 100. In 2017 AIPAC spent only $3,402,651 in lobbying. Putting that in perspective, the 100th biggest lobbyist, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, spent $8,100,000, almost two and a half times that of AIPAC.

Time will tell if Democratic Party leadership will continue to point out the anti-Semitism in their ranks. I am not optimistic.

As for Rep. Omar’s half-apology: Based on the fact that she used her apology to demonize AIPAC, it is doubtful she is really chastened. This column and The Jewish Star will continue to keep a watchful eye on Rep. Omar and on all political parties.