Ilhan Omar Spoke the Truth

In a widely-reprinted National Review column of March 8, Israel advocate Jonah Goldberg demonstrated how deceitful attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar’s supposed anti-Semitism really are. Goldberg goes on for paragraphs claiming that Omar demonizes Jews with "classic anti-Semitic claims" about Jewish wealth and power.

What he doesn’t do, even once, is quote what Rep. Omar actually said, instead making up charges such as, "The gist of Omar’s complaints is that the perfidious, string-pulling Hebraic hordes control Congress with their shady shekels, Israel has hypnotized the world, and American Jews are guilty of dual loyalty."

This is typical of the smears critics Left and Right heaped on Omar. But in reality, she said nothing anti-Jewish. She didn’t mention Jews at all. She simply pointed out the obvious fact that the Israel Lobby spends large amounts of money supporting politicians who favor Israel and opposing politicians who don’t. As a result, she says, "I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic, and I am not alone."

Israel and its supporters play the anti-Semitism card all the time against any criticism of Israel. For decades, Israel’s go-to strategy to disarm critics has been to paint them as Jew-haters. Whether Israel is bombing Lebanon, massacring Gazans, ethnically-cleansing Jerusalem, pushing the world into wars, or setting up an apartheid state, their defense against critics has always been to scream "anti-Semitism" at them until they back down or are crushed. This policing can go to ridiculous extremes. Recently, a completely apolitical billboard in Boston honoring first responders in Gaza was taken down because Israel supporters demanded its removal, calling it "anti-Semitic" and "terrorist."

This strategy has secured US support for Israel for decades. When Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed a joint session of the US Congress to oppose President Barack Obama’s Iran treaty, he received 26 standing ovations. Most of those applauding were not Jews, but they were our Senators and Representatives.

Despite Goldberg’s description of her words, Omar did not accuse Jews, or anyone else, of dual loyalty. But those ovations for a foreign leader opposing the US government certainly could be perceived that way. Congresspeople routinely take tours of Israel, paid for by the Lobby. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) boasts on its website: "The United States Congress has provided Israel with the strongest support of any institution in the world."

Omar first came under attack when she tweeted, "It’s all about the Benjamins" (meaning money) in response to a question about why Congress is so faithful to Israel. This is supposedly an "anti-Semitic trope" about Jews manipulating others with their money, but it sounds exactly like what all lobbies try to do. New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, himself a defender of Israel, wrote, "The standing ovation Netanyahu got in Congress was not for his politics. That ovation was bought and paid for by the Israel lobby."

One can join AIPAC’s "Congressional Club by "donating $2500/year to pro-Israel politics" and "giving political contributions in a clearly pro-Israel context to candidates." That’s why politicians rush to the annual AIPAC convention. No fewer than 35 Congressmembers spoke at AIPAC 2018. Many of the 2020 presidential candidates are expected at this year’s conference, which begins on March 24.

The Benjamins don’t stop with AIPAC. Dozens of other Jewish and fundamentalist Christian organizations in the US also push Congressional support for Israel. Billionaire casino magnate Haim Saban, a leading contributor to the Democratic Party, says "I’m a one issue guy, and the issue is Israel." Billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, the leading individual contributor to the Republican Party, funds development in illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank. Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and several other American Christian ministries make lobbying for and contributing to Israel major focuses of their work.

Ilhan Omar didn’t create this situation; she just told the truth about it, and for that she has been smeared as anti-Semitic. But the charge is losing its power, thanks to the overreach by people like Goldberg and the courage of people like Omar. Millions of Americans, including millions of Jews and organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace and If Not Now are tired of the blank check and blanket US support for Israeli crimes and wars. We know that criticism of Israel is not the same as hatred of Jews. We stand with Ilhan Omar, who embodies and projects Jewish values far more than neoconservative Israel lobbyists like Jonah Goldberg will ever

David Spero is a San Francisco resident, a lifelong antiwar partisan, and an active member of Jewish Voice for Peace – Bay Area.