Ilhan Omar under attack for telling truth about Israel lobby

Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is under attack for telling the truth about the power of the Israel lobby. (Lorie Shaull)

Updates have been added to the end of this article.

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.

On Sunday, journalist Glenn Greenwald highlighted a news story about how Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy wants to punish Omar, and fellow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, for their criticisms of Israel.

In a perverse move, McCarthy tried to equate the two women’s support for Palestinian rights with notorious Republican Congressman Steve King’s white supremacism.

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

Omar then retweeted Greenwald, adding the comment, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” the title of a rap song by Puff Daddy.

“Benjamins” is a slang term for $100 bills, a reference to the portrait of Benjamin Franklin that is on the banknotes.

Then, Batya Ungar-Sargon, the opinion editor of the The Forward, chimed in, challenging Omar to explain who she “thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel.”

Ungar-Sargon also accused Omar of tweeting an “anti-Semitic trope.”

Omar’s answer to Ungar-Sargon’s question was succinct: “AIPAC!”

That’s when the floodgates opened.

Chelsea Clinton “co-signed” Batya-Sargon’s attack on Omar. “We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism,” the former first daughter asserted.

Other Israel lobby stalwarts, like President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, amplified the attacks on Omar:

As did the Israeli government itself, through foreign ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon:

Establishment publication Politico quickly came out with a story accusing Omar of touching “upon a long-running, and particularly ugly, thread of the anti-Semitic movement – that Jewish money fuels backing for Israel in the United States and elsewhere.”

Of course Omar never mentioned “Jewish money.” She referred to AIPAC – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – a lobby group which exists specifically to defend Israel’s interests.

The story quoted her fellow Democrat, New York Congressman Max Rose, describing Omar’s comments as “deeply hurtful to Jews, including myself.”

The story quickly went national, with NBC running the headline, “Freshman Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar accused of sending ‘anti-Semitic’ tweets.”

Target of smears

It is no surprise that Omar is the target of the kind of anti-Semitism smears that have been deployed against UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, given that she was the first member of Congress to openly support BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.

Twitter users responded to Clinton with facts about the power and influence of AIPAC:

Others pointed out the sheer hypocrisy of Kevin McCarthy, a Republican leader who has trafficked in anti-Semitism but now pretends to care about Jews only when it comes to defending Israel:

Jeffrey Goldberg, the pundit and former Israeli prison guard, recounted in a 2005 article for The New Yorker a dinner he once had with Steve Rosen, the director of foreign policy issues at AIPAC.

“You see this napkin?” Rosen told Goldberg. “In twenty-four hours, we could have the signatures of 70 senators on this napkin.”

The power of pro-Israel money

Any observer of Washington politics knows that this is no exaggeration when it comes to the power of pro-Israel money.

It’s scarcely a secret that Donald Trump’s insistence on recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy there was in fulfillment of a promise to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire pro-Israel mogul who is the biggest donor to the president and the Republican Party.

The influence of Adelson’s cash on US foreign policy has been enormous, even if media refuse to talk about it.

And just last week 77 of 100 senators voted for the AIPAC-backed Combating BDS Act, which targets the Palestine solidarity movement and violates First Amendment free speech rights.

Despite the fierceness of the attack on her, Omar does not appear to be backing down. She continues to retweet tweets, like this one, pointing out the massive influence of the Israel lobby:

She also tweeted to Chelsea Clinton that she’d be “happy to talk.”

Of course AIPAC is only one, albeit important, element of the Israel lobby.

It includes a number of groups, such as The Israel Project, Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Israel on Campus Coalition, actively interfering in American political and civic life in direct and covert collusion with the Israeli government.

Many of these activities were exposed in Al Jazeera’s explosive undercover documentary The Lobby–USA – which ironically the self-same lobby used its enormous influence to pressure Qatar, Al Jazeera’s patron, into censoring.

But the film leaked, and was released in full by The Electronic Intifada and two other publications last November.

All other things being equal, had this documentary uncovered supposed Russian, Chinese or Canadian interference in US politics, it would have been a media sensation and a national scandal.

Instead it has been virtually ignored.

Lobby influence waning?

Yet the fierce backlash against Ilhan Omar for stating the obvious can be seen as a sign that the Israel lobby, though still powerful, is losing some of its oomph.

While the Combating BDS Act passed by a huge margin in the Senate, prominent Democrats, including those running for president, voted against it.

And there are doubts that it will ever be brought to a vote in the House, for fear of splitting the Democratic caucus over Israel.

As long as the lobby held near-total sway, it was dangerous to criticize it.

The defiance of Democratic senators and the open criticism from Omar are signs that the fear the lobby instilled is waning as the base of the Democratic Party becomes more supportive of Palestinian rights.

At the end of The Lobby–USA, Eric Gallagher, a former AIPAC staffer then working at The Israel Project, is heard on hidden camera describing how the bipartisan consensus in support of Israel has seriously fractured in recent years.

Gallagher admits that AIPAC’s strength is ebbing.

“The foundation that AIPAC sat on is rotting,” he laments.

“There used to be actual widespread public support for Israel in the United States. So I don’t think that AIPAC is going to remain as influential as it is.”

He adds: “I don’t think that AIPAC is the tip of the spear anymore, which is worrisome, because who is?”

Update: Ilhan Omar “standing strong”

Throughout Monday, the pressure continued to mount on Ilhan Omar, including from top Democrat, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the party’s congressional leadership.

Echoing other attackers, the party leadership accused Omar of using “anti-Semitic tropes.”

The New York Times also amplified the smear campaign by implying that Omar had called out the role of “Jewish money” – a term the congresswoman never used.

In face of all the pressure, Omar tweeted that she is “listening and learning, but standing strong.”

She offered an “unequivocal” apology, but added: “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.”

It remains to be seen whether her statement will appease the Israel lobby groups that are attacking her in bad faith, using well-worn tactics intended to silence critics of Israel.

Long experience suggests that any attempt at appeasing such lobby groups only invites more pressure.

Update: Railroaded by her own party

On Tuesday I spoke about the smear campaign against Omar on the radio show Fault Lines:

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Comments

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Because Republicans hated President Obama, they tried ever trick in the book to derail the Iranian nuclear agreement. That included bringing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who hates Iran, here to address a joint session of Congress. A number of Republicans, including Senator David Perdue of Georgia, have traveled to Israel to hobnob with Netanyahu.

Collaborating with a foreign entity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, to undermine U.S. policy is treason.

It is time for a fresh start with Iran. It is time for Trump to stop all the rhetoric and threats toward Iran, advocating more sanctions that clearly are not working, only harming American companies. It is time for Republicans to stop hobnobbing with Netanyahu, supporting Israel over the interest and national security of the United States. My recommendation would be for our elected leaders to focus on diplomacy and reestablish diplomatic relations with Iran.

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Well said ms. I. Omar. Without any fear, you did your job very well. Thank you and God bless you.

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Just the response to ANYONE who even remotely criticizes Israel is confirmation that the critique is well-founded in facts! Mike Rivero of Whatreallyhappened.com has a good saying- "Free speech is "hate speech" to those who have something to hide." If Israel thinks it is being picked on, just take a good hard look at the Palestinian situation for the past 50 years! Personally I am sickened by the continued refrain "antisemitism" without these Israeli apologists just once taking a good hard look at the REALITY of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank!

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I wholeheartedly agree. Collaborating with a foreign entity, Israel, and its PM, Bibzy Nutty&Yahoo, to undermine US policy is, indeed, treason. Bonkers Bolton and Pompous Pompeo have collaborated with Nutty&Yahoo for months now, starting with their undermining Trump's plans to pull out of Syria and Afghanistan. This is High Treason, and they must be held accountable. They're already liable for the deaths of 4 US soldiers killed by an ISIS suicide bomber.
Had all troops been withdrawn from Syria as planned in December, none would've been killed in that suicide bombing attack.

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I appreciate this article. I turned off cable long ago and so I get my news from sites like yours. I am thankful that someone like Sister Omar has spoken this truth because people are seeing these responses to Clinton (many for the first time) on twitter exposing AIPAC and the powerful Jewish (Zionist) lobby in US politics.

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Oh, FFS! Rep. Ilhan Omar has nothing to apologize for.

The Senate just passed an anti-BDS measure that is an affront to the 1st Amendment! It is obvious that Republicans, and the Anti-BDS Democrats, are putting, AIPAC's interests, and Israel's, ahead of our Constitutional Rights. How is that even arguable?

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AMEN Stephan!!

All American politicians who take the oath to Israel or give them our money while American veterans are shooting themselves in the parking lots of VA hospitals due to no care, elderly are starving & freezing, 9 years old is the AVERAGE HOMELESS AMERICAN {so Netanyahu can eat steak on your tax dollar, while we exist on top ramen} need to REGISTER AS AGENTS OF A HOSTILE, TERRORIST, APARTHIED FOREIGN NATION. It's your money and you have a right to DEMAND IT IS SPENT TRYING TO SAVE AMERICA!

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Supporters of Israel have a chokehold over our national legislature. What is the first piece of legistlation passed by the US Senate? Another big giveaway to Israel ( $38B over ten years) AND support for Israel’s anti-BDS agenda. Democratic senators voted for this measure sponsored by all republican senators. Evidently the third rail in American politics is blind, unwavering support for a foreign nation.

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Not all Jews are as blind as those who are attacking Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib! Those of us who are active in the movement for justice for the Palestinians--those of us who have rejected our romantic childhood notions of the "sacred" state of Israel--have studied the history of pre-1948 Zionist colonial intentions, and all the ethnic cleansing and oppression that has happened and continues to happen as a result. So we applaud our Muslim sisters, and stand with them! We can't let them be attacked so brutally! Liz

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“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” exults neo-con godfather William Kristol. So here’s the crazy part—we’re not supposed to acknowledge that there’s an Israel Lobby, even though its main players talk openly about their activities! No, as Abraham Foxman pointed out in his book “The Deadliest Lies,” the existence of an Israel Lobby is a scurrilous falsehood made up by anti-Semites.

Got that? There’s no Lobby, but you’d better do what the Lobby says.

To help readers with this Orwellian dilemma, I offer these “12 Commandments of the Israel Lobby,” to be memorized if possible in a venue featuring the theme song of “The Twilight Zone” in the background.

The Israel Lobby does not exist. In those cases where it does exist, its conclusions cannot be questioned.

All criticisms of Israel are false. They are invented by anti-Semites, self-hating Jews, and terrorists. Also by crypto-Nazis, apostates and liars.

All critics of Israel must be punished by extracting a public apology. Some offenders may be required to apologize more than once, if they do not grovel sufficiently the first time around.

Those who criticize Israel and do not publicly apologize must be endlessly harassed, and fired from their jobs if possible. In academia they must be denied tenure.

Any Arab or Muslim that criticizes Israel is a terrorist, and deserves to die.

To praise anybody who ever criticized Israel is the same thing as criticizing Israel. Just as all things Israeli are good, anybody that criticizes Israel is bad.

In any conflict involving Israelis and Palestinians, the Israelis are always the victims. If an Israeli hurts a Palestinian, the Israeli is still the victim because the Palestinian is trying to make the Israeli feel bad.

Israel/Palestine is never debated. That implies another side to the issue, and there is only one side. Therefore debate

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It is so sad to see this great nation self-destructing. NOBODY believes that our politicians are working for OUR best interest, nobody, except the politicians themselves. That is why there's a lot of apathy in politics. When a foreign country takes precedence over our own country, then there's something wrong with that picture. The whole word sees it except us.

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We need to cut off not just Isreal, but Saudi, Egypt, and all our other StRaTeGiC PaRtNeRs in the middle east. We are acting like Rome and that shit didn't end well for the Romans. US politics are typified by our unlimited political bribery scheme (predating even Citizens United). We need uncorrupted politicians who oppose not just endless war, but the US' hegemony.

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In a democratic country there would be an investigation of Israeli influence on both parties and the manipulation of our political system. And why does this Nietenyahoo get more standing ovation in US congress than any US president has ever received? It is because our "elected" representatives know that they are being watched, and they are afraid. As Noam Chomsky has said (?) US Congress is the other Israeli occupied territory that nobody talks about.

Thank you for pointing out the elephant in the room.

BOYCOTT ISRAEL!!

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Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is deliberately trying to provoke a war with Iran and draw the United States into it. Trump is permitting Netanyahu to dictate U.S. policy. Trump withdrew from the Iranian nuclear accord, relocated the embassy to Jerusalem and Netanyahu now wants Trump (the United States) to recognize the Golan Heights as belonging to Israel.

Republicans and Democrats alike stumble all over themselves supporting Israel. Meanwhile, Netanyahu imprisons thousands Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. And Israel (Netanyahu) continues to take and occupy Palestinian lands.

Congress voted to give Israel $38 billion. Israel provides universal health care and free college education.

It is time to stop supporting Netanyahu and his warmongering ways and focus on the needs in this country.

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Rep. Omar is right and we should not be surprised at those congress people in her political party who
stood 29+ times in brown-nosing applause to Netanyahu before the whole world on TV, shaming the office of president of the United States, all for power and money .

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I wish the conversation included reference and quotes from the 4 part documentary by Al Jazeera on the Israel Lobby/AIPAC. While that lobby succeeded in pressuring Al Jazeera to suppress it for public showing, it was seen by many and has been quoted by at least some progressive writers like Ryan Grim. There is nothing subtle in that documentary as we hear its members brag on how they use their money to control Congress; ie, American politics. I am so proud of Ilhan Omar: it shows her stalwart courage and commitment. We need more of her kind by the dozens.

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“We’re the pro-Israel wing of the pro-Israel community,” exults neo-con godfather William Kristol. So here’s the crazy part—we’re not supposed to acknowledge that there’s an Israel Lobby, even though its main players talk openly about their activities! No, as Abraham Foxman pointed out in his book “The Deadliest Lies,” the existence of an Israel Lobby is a scurrilous falsehood made up by anti-Semites.

Got that? There’s no Lobby, but you’d better do what the Lobby says.

To help readers with this Orwellian dilemma, I offer these “12 Commandments of the Israel Lobby,” to be memorized if possible in a venue featuring the theme song of “The Twilight Zone” in the background.

The Israel Lobby does not exist. In those cases where it does exist, its conclusions cannot be questioned.

All criticisms of Israel are false. They are invented by anti-Semites, self-hating Jews, and terrorists. Also by crypto-Nazis, apostates and liars.

All critics of Israel must be punished by extracting a public apology. Some offenders may be required to apologize more than once, if they do not grovel sufficiently the first time around.

Those who criticize Israel and do not publicly apologize must be endlessly harassed, and fired from their jobs if possible. In academia they must be denied tenure.

Any Arab or Muslim that criticizes Israel is a terrorist, and deserves to die.

To praise anybody who ever criticized Israel is the same thing as criticizing Israel. Just as all things Israeli are good, anybody that criticizes Israel is bad.

In any conflict involving Israelis and Palestinians, the Israelis are always the victims. If an Israeli hurts a Palestinian, the Israeli is still the victim because the Palestinian is trying to make the Israeli feel bad.

Israel/Palestine is never debated. That implies another side to the issue, and there is only one side. Therefore debate

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