(February 13, 2019 / JNS) Since entering Congress, U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) have made their anti-Semitic attitudes well-known.
Last month, Tlaib attacked Republican lawmakers and opponents of the anti-Israel BDS movement by saying “they forgot what country they represent,” evoking the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel.
On Sunday, Omar accused the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobbying organization, of paying members of Congress to back Israel.
Omar replied to a Twitter post by journalist Glenn Greenwald about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) “[threatening punishment for [Omar] and [Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib] over their criticisms of Israel.”
“It’s stunning how much time U.S. political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans,” he added.
Omar responded with, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.”
Batya Ungar-Sargon, opinion editor for The Forward, replied: “Would love to know who @IlhanMN thinks is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel, though I think I can guess. Bad form, Congresswoman.”
Without specifying, she added, “That’s the second anti-Semitic trope you’ve tweeted.”
Replying to Ungar-Sargon, Omar, who serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: “AIPAC!”
‘Exactly the spin you want’
But do condemnations from lawmakers and others demonstrate AIPAC’s strength? Do these remarks cause more members of Congress to rally behind Israel?
In an email to supporters on Tuesday, AIPAC said that it won’t be deterred by Omar’s latest comments: “Aside from being offensive, divisive and ill-informed, the congresswoman’s assertions are plain wrong … We succeed because we are proud, and we are determined.”
“We are proud that members of Congress from both sides of the aisle continue to stand together to condemn illegitimate attacks on the pro-Israel community,” they added. “And we are determined to continue our bipartisan efforts in support of the shared values that unite America and Israel.”
Prominent Democratic strategist Ann Lewis told JNS that the widespread rebuke of Omar’s accusations against the pro-Israel lobby was encouraging.
“I think the less-than-24 hours that elapsed from Omar’s comment, to the statement by the entire Democratic House leadership, followed by Omar’s apology, was a remarkable moment in our history: the condemnation of an elected official’s anti-Semitic message by that official’s own party leaders,” she said. “My reaction is that the entire incident—unplanned, unforeseen and unwished for—turned out to be a positive demonstration of Democratic Party attitudes.”
But conservative pundit Ramesh Ponnuru told JNS that Lewis’s reaction is “exactly the spin that you would want to put on these events,” in addition to labeling Omar’s apology as “half-hearted.”
“And the fact is heartening that Democrats condemned the remarks, but it is discouraging that they had to do so in the first place,” he continued.
He added that unlike what the Republicans finally did after Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) added to his record of racist actions by removing him from his committee assignments after years of bigoted comments by the congressman, in addition to passing an almost-unanimous House resolution condemning him and white supremacy. Democrats have yet to do the same over Omar’s anti-Semitic tweets.
Regarding Omar’s remorse, “There’s not really a retraction. She’s continuing to retweet people who are saying she was right the first time,” said Ponnuru.
Nonetheless, Lewis remarked that the pushback against Omar from lawmakers and outside forces occurred due to the majority of Americans supporting the U.S.-Israel relationship. “Because we have the good fortunate to live in a democracy, that support is the basis of our political strength,” she said.
‘The tip of the iceberg’
“The rise of open anti-Semitism on the hard left is no surprise—it is omnipresent, after all, in Europe,” Hudson Institute president and CEO Ken Weinstein told JNS. “But the fact we are hearing such inflammatory rhetoric from members of Congress should give all of us pause.”
“It’s horrifying, but this is just the tip of the iceberg,” he continued. “What’s disturbing was the non-apology [Omar] offered: the apology followed by a defense of the idea she espoused.”
Omar’s defense was “I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the [National Riffle Association] or the fossil-fuel industry. It’s gone on too long, and we must be willing to address it.”
Regarding the condemnations of Omar, “The pushback has nothing to do with AIPAC,” said Weinstein. “It is driven primarily by common decency, but also a fear that the resurgence of the hard-left will drive more Jews into the Republican Party.”
In the 2016 election, 71 percent of Jewish voters supported Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, while only 24 percent of them voted for Trump.
Relating to Trump’s views on Israel, 51 percent of Jewish voters approve, while 49 percent do not. This includes 62 percent of such voters disapproving of U.S. relations with the Palestinians, and 56 percent opposed to the president moving the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Finally, support for Israel in Congress has been tested lately over legislation that the Senate passed this month that includes allowing state and local governments the right to punish state or local contractors from engaging in boycotting Israel. Twenty-two Democrats, plus Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), voted against the bill, citing the American Civil Liberties Union’s concerns it would infringe on freedom of speech.
“As a strong supporter of the legislation, I recognize that there are disagreements about aspects of S.1, but I know that every Democratic Senator has made clear that they oppose BDS,” said Lewis.
However, Weinstein said, “the anti-BDS legislation has forced the Democrats to deal with what is clearly a big divide in the caucus over support for Israel.”
Ponnuru agreed with Weinstein, adding, “I think the free-speech concerns were misperceived. In some cases, they may have been sincere, just mistaken. But I think that the movement itself has helped to reduce the American left’s support for Israel.”
He said American support for Israel can be attributed to more than AIPAC’s strength.
“Organizations form and do their work in order to maximize their impact. But I would say that it is 90 percent that, just as the National Rifle Association, which Omar compared to AIPAC, would not be the force it is if there weren’t millions of voters who are sympathetic to its causes AIPAC would not have as much influence if it didn’t speak for millions of Americans, and in some respect, most Americans.”