Originally published April 17, 2019
Last week, amidst yet another controversy surrounding Ilhan Omar, freshman congresswoman from Minnesota, the cover of Newsweek was Omar’s smiling face with the title “Ilhan Omar, the Democrats, and Israel.” Inside the magazine was a 5,000-word article titled, “How Ilhan Omar Is Changing the Conversation About Israel – and Upending the 2020 Campaign.” The article paints Omar as the tragic heroine selflessly working from within the Democratic Party to create a more honest view of the U.S.-Israel relationship.
Like every truly great historical figure, Omar has multiple nemeses and obstacles in her way. The first: AIPAC, the evil pro-Israel lobby that is tricking American politicians into supporting Israel. The second: Republicans, the racist, sexist, Islamophobes who hate the truth she is speaking because she is a black Muslim woman. The third: the Jewish- and Israel-supporting Democrats who are not progressive enough for their own party. In reality, the article egregiously misconstrues the truth about each of these groups.
Omar’s war against AIPAC is not a secret. She recently claimed that they were paying off politicians for loyalty to Israel. She claims that due to their outsized influence in Congress, America doesn’t talk about the Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. The author buries that AIPAC does not endorse or raise money for candidates halfway through the article, right before it derides the notion that the organization “researches and collects information on candidates – such as their voting record on Israel-related legislation, relevant speeches, and travel and meetings in the Middle East – and delivers it to pro-Israel activists, essentially guiding their campaign donations toward friendly candidates.” With the tenor of a nefarious plot, this accusation reads to any critical thinker as a truly innocuous statement. Is it controversial for a pro-Israel lobbying organization to research political candidates to ensure that when they need to lobby Congress, they have knowledge and background of who they are lobbying? Every lobbying group on every side of every issue does this.
What the article fails to mention is the largest Israel lobbying group by political contributions, JStreet. JStreetPAC contributed $4.4 million during the 2017-2018 election cycle alone, and 100% to Democrats. (The next highest contributor during that same election period was NORPAC, who contributed less than a quarter of JStreet, also mostly to Democrats.) JStreet is highly critical of the Netanyahu administration and regularly criticizes Israeli policy regarding Palestinians. Their monetary contributions are ignored in favor of the false narrative that Ilhan Omar is “changing the conversation.”
The article then condemns the AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel for new members of Congress. Rashida Tlaib, Palestinian American freshman congresswoman from Michigan and Omar’s greatest ally, said she would not go. Instead, she is organizing a competing trip to Judea and Samaria (a.k.a. the West Bank). (For context, Tlaib also called for the end to military aid to Israel and a one-state solution that would essentially wipe the Jewish state off the map.) As the article quotes, “I know this is something my colleagues don’t usually get to experience, and I think it’s an essential part of taking a fully informed, human-centered and realistic approach as policymakers,” Tlaib told Vice News. “I hope it inspires us to choose values rather than sides.” There is no hint of the irony of her refusing to visit the land she despises in order to see their values, or to broaden her own perspective. She has a closed mind, only willing to indoctrinate others into her mode of thinking.
The article goes in depth into AIPAC’s “formidable political operation” while discussing the case of Charles Percy. “In perhaps the most storied case,” the article says, “AIPAC activists in 1984 targeted Senator Charles Percy of Illinois, then the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Percy had defied Israel on a handful of issues, most memorably by supporting the U.S. sale of AWACS early-warning aircraft to Saudi Arabia – a weapons sale Israel and AIPAC vehemently opposed but which narrowly cleared the Senate by a two-vote margin, thanks largely to Percy’s influential endorsement as head of the panel that oversees such sales. In response, AIPAC board member Robert Asher persuaded liberal Democratic congressman Paul Simon to run against Percy, Simon later wrote in his autobiography. With AIPAC’s encouragement, pro-Israel PACs and wealthy American Jews provided Simon with $3.1 million – fully 40 percent of his war chest. A single Jewish activist alone financed $1.6 million worth of attack ads against Percy. Simon received 65 percent of the Jewish vote to Percy’s 35 percent, which proved decisive in Simon’s victory.”
The article leaves out a few critical points. First, Percy was a Republican (which the article fails to mention because it undercuts the point that Republicans are sycophantically pro-Israel), which historically Jews vote against. In that same election cycle, Ronald Reagan won 31% of the nation’s popular Jewish vote, compared to the 59% he received of the overall popular (while winning a whopping 49 states). It was well within the norm for Jews to vote the way they did. Second, Illinois was moving Democrat anyway in the 1980s. While Percy did win re-election in 1972 and 1978, the other Senator from Illinois was a Democrat since 1970. This article is attribution electoral victory to AIPAC when there are many other factors at play. As the article says, “Percy’s defeat established AIPAC as a powerful political force that lawmakers crossed at their own peril. Since then, the lobby has helped shape a reliably pro-Israel House and Senate, winning broad bipartisan support every year for foreign aid appropriations, out of which Israel receives more than $3 billion in security assistance annually, making it the largest recipient of U.S. foreign largess.” This misinformation is littered throughout the article.
The next target of the authors ire are the Republicans. The article begins with the Republican speeches at the AIPAC conference, classifying them as turning Israel into “as partisan an issue as immigration and healthcare.” (A mere 600 words later, the article says: “Policy toward Israel became a partisan issue in March 2015,” referring to the Iran deal, so by their own admission this is a lie.) There is no mention of the speeches given by prominent Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who all condemned anti-Semitism and either directly or indirectly confronted Omar’s rhetoric. So not only does the author claim partisanship where it does not exist, he does Democrats a disservice by claiming they didn’t criticize Omar at AIPAC.
The article also brings up debunked criticisms of Republicans, assuming its audience is too naïve to know the truth. It mentions the poster linking 9/11 and Ilhan Omar at a GOP-sponsored event in West Virginia, but neglects to mention that the West Virginia GOP condemned it and asked the person who put it up to remove it. It mentions Christopher Hasson, a white supremacist arrested with a cache of weapons and a hitlist that includes Omar, but neglects to mention that Hasson had Jewish targets and wanted to commit mass genocide. (He referred to Senator Richard Blumenthal as “Sen blumen jew” and wrote “I am dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on earth.”) Yet, the author manages to link that psychopath with Republicans.
The article derides Republican support for Israel as partisan election strategy. “With the 2020 election cycle now underway,” the article writes, “GOP leaders are seizing upon Omar’s comments, to put in motion their election strategy of tarring all Democrats as both anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic. Republicans are basing their strategy in part on polls that show far greater sympathy for Israel among Republican voters than Democrats.” It fails to mention that Republicans have had strong support for Israel for years, while the Democratic support for Israel has been waning. Multiple Democratic presidential candidates in the Senate voted against an anti-BDS bill in February, including Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren. The Democratic socialists are overwhelmingly in favor of BDS. The 2012 DNC was very close to removing recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel from its platform. Republican support for Israel is not electoral strategy as much as it is part of the party’s core beliefs.
Of course, the article attacks President Trump. It praises Omar’s calls for the Trump administration to condemn Israel just like the “violations of hostile governments such as Iran and Venezuela.” The article accuses Trump of anti-Semitism, saying, “During his campaign, Trump perpetuated stereotypes of Jews using money to buy influence, telling Jewish donors, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians – that’s fine.” At the same event, he drew on another Jewish stereotype, telling the audience, “I’m a negotiator, like you folks. We are negotiators,” he said. “Is there anybody who doesn’t negotiate deals in this room?” It fails to mention that this was to a group of Republican Jewish donors, during the primary, where he was trying to get them to donate to him instead of his primary opponents. It also neglects to mention that the remarks drew laughs from the crowd. The article also brings back the tired lie about Trump’s response to the Charlottesville attack, where they construe his (admittingly poorly-worded) statement of “very fine people on both sides” as a tacit endorsement of white supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us.” (Anyone who listens to the context of that audio knows that he’s clearly referring to the debate about whether or not to take down Civil War statues.)
Finally, the article goes after the Jewish and pro-Israel Democrats. Beginning with Joe Crowley, who was defeated in the primary by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, he is referred to as “a staunch defender of Israel” while the article quotes Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet about the border fence dispute in Gaza (which the article describes as “Israeli troops opened fire and killed scores of Palestinians demonstrating at the Gaza border fence” without mentioning the rocks, flaming tires, and fire bombs hurled at Israeli soldiers). Ocasio-Cortez referred to this as a “massacre” and said, “Democrats can’t be silent about this anymore.” The next target is New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is referred to as “a more mainstream Democrat with unassailable pro-Israel credentials” (no mention of her BDS voting record, support for the Iran deal, or connection with virulent anti-Semite Linda Sarsour). Gillibrand has the temerity to call out Omar’s anti-Semitism, as opposed to other presidential candidates like Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren. The article says, “‘Those with critical views of Israel, such as Congresswoman Omar, should be able to express their views without employing anti-Semitic tropes about money and influence,’ Gillibrand said in a statement, ‘just as those critical of Omar should not be using Islamophobic language.’” The article also makes the case that Democrats don’t need Israel to receive Jewish votes. “American Jews,” says the article, “are not single-issue voters and don’t choose their presidents on the basis of their pro-Israel sympathies alone. And most Jews historically vote Democratic.” They are setting the table for the possibility that a Democrat wins in 2020 and the direction that the U.S.-Israel relationship should go. “If a Democrat wins, the influence of progressives like Omar could lead to previously unthinkable changes to the U.S.-Israel relationship amid a post-Trump backlash.”
By attacking any condemnation or criticism of Omar, the author is defending her rhetoric. Classifying her anti-Semitism as “changing the conversation” is merely a cover for said anti-Semitism. A 5,000-word cover story defense of one of the worst political actors today is not something to be taken lightly. The pro-Israel crowd on both sides of the aisle should not be deterred by the endless onslaught by Ilhan Omar’s defenders in both the media and the fringes of the Democratic Party. Now is the time to speak out against it, before it is too late.
You can follow Moshe Hill on Twitter @TheMohill.
By Moshe Hill