Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar has exposed a long-held open secret about the massive influence of the Israel lobby group AIPAC on US lawmakers.
In recent days, not only has she been scorned, attacked and smeared as an anti-Semite by Republicans and top members of her own Democratic Party, but elected leaders have remained conspicuously silent about AIPAC, thus vindicating her comments.
Meanwhile, the congresswoman continued on Wednesday to demonstrate her true antiwar principles when she questioned Elliott Abrams, the far right-wing Washington official tasked with overseeing the US regime change operation in Venezuela.
During a congressional hearing, Omar asked Abrams to account for his role in war crimes and the backing of death squads and genocides in Central America in the 1980s:
When Omar referred to Abrams’ 1991 conviction for lying to Congress to cover up his involvement in funding right-wing Nicaraguan militias during the Iran-Contra affair, he shouted that he was being “attacked.”
Abrams is a hardline Israel advocate who has held foreign policy positions in the administrations of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump.
Last year, he spoke at AIPAC’s annual policy conference.
Abrams’ petulance in the face of Omar’s recitation of facts was a continuation of the barrage of smears she has endured for days as a result of her honesty about the Israel lobby.
Politicians and pundits have since Sunday claimed that Omar’s condemnation of the Israel lobby’s financial influence on US politics amounted to bigotry against Jews. But it was the accusers, not Omar, falsely conflating Israel’s organized lobby with Jewish people.
The pressure on US lawmakers from pro-war and Israel lobby groups is precisely intended to silence critics, using the threat of being labeled with anti-Semitism as a cudgel to break any defection from status quo positions on Israel, as I wrote for In These Times.
Even progressive New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – who stayed silent for several days while her colleague was being attacked – tweeted that Omar’s comments caused “pain” and failed to back her colleague’s correct assessment of AIPAC’s influence:
When Omar apologized under duress for stating the facts – something many have pointed out was unnecessary in the first place – it did not lessen the smears.
The attacks have only proliferated – President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence both called on Omar to resign or face punishment – because her fellow Democratic lawmakers have thrown the first Black Muslim refugee congresswoman under the bus.
Unintentionally proving Omar’s point, AIPAC sent out an email slamming the congresswoman while asking for financial support to promote Israel’s interests:
The lobby group is one of several well-funded organization on Capitol Hill that exist explicitly to push Israel’s political agenda – and which use the campaign finance system to exert pressure and discipline on lawmakers.
“The United States Congress has provided Israel with the strongest support of any institution in the world. Maintaining bipartisan congressional support for Israel is crucial,” AIPAC itself states on a web page aimed at recruiting donors to political candidates.
In the censored Al Jazeera documentary The Lobby - USA, a former AIPAC staffer complains that “widespread public support for Israel in the United States” is waning, and that AIPAC’s influence is not “the tip of the spear anymore” as support for Israel amongst the Democratic base continues to slip.
With that in mind, the coordinated attacks against Omar reveal AIPAC’s bullying as desperation.
The lobby knows that it needs to maintain control over the politicians that keep Israel’s agenda in place – even as mainstream support for Israel’s policies erodes.
Joining AIPAC in fundraising off the smears against Omar, The Forward sent emails doubling down on opinion editor Batya Ungar-Sargon’s initial attack on the congresswoman, asking for donations:
Support for Israel is part of a strategy employed by establishment politicians to defend US empire across the world.
It is no coincidence that the same Democratic Party leaders who threw Omar to the wolves had already joined their Republican counterparts in stumping for regime change in Venezuela, with Elliott Abrams appointed as a key policy architect.
Omar’s tenacious antiwar principles, which she employed during her honest examination of Abrams’ record just days after she told the truth about the powerful Israel lobby, are a clear rebuke to establishment politics.
Omar’s colleagues in Congress should follow her lead and use this moment to challenge the status quo. But so far she stands virtually alone.