In this day and age, rarely is there an issue in the United States of America that allows both political sides, the left and right, to criticize it at once. However, time and time again shows that the discussion of America’s controversial relationship with Israel is the exception to that rule. This was seen with the uproar, from both Democrats and Republicans, that came when Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Mn.) criticized the powerful, pro-Israeli lobbying group: The American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. On Feb. 10, The Intercept journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Ca.) comments, which threatened to punish the new Congresswoman, simply for her criticisms of Israel. Omar responded to the comments by retweeting Greenwald’s tweet and stating that, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” Quickly, the congresswoman was accused of anti-Semitism, to which she clarified that her tweet was referring to AIPAC’s pro-Israeli lobbying efforts. Omar was quickly charged with anti-Semitism from the right, her own party and by prominent figures like Chelsea Clinton who stated that the American public should expect all “elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.”
Congresswoman Omar is the latest public figure to be defamed and smeared by critics who believe that criticism of Israel is synonymous to anti-Semitism.This is also not the first time that a campaign of slander was waged against a public figure — Professor Marc Lamont Hill was fired from CNN for his pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist statements and civil rights activist Angela Davis had her award revoked by the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute for simply criticizing Israeli policy towards Palestinians. Regardless of who you are, if you criticize Israel or voice an ounce of support for the Palestinians, you will be attacked and falsely labeled as an anti-Semite.
The ferocity of the attacks against Omar show that any criticism of Israel is not only taboo, but also indicative that it is a subject that America needs to confront head on. It should not be a surprise that AIPAC spends enormous money on lobbying Democratic and Republican members of Congress in order to promote its pro-Israeli stance. According to the nonpartisan, independent and nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics, AIPAC spent over 3.5 million dollars on pro-Israeli lobbying efforts in 2018. AIPAC is notoriously known for its cutthroat lobbying in which it goes after anything that appears shaky in regards to the issue of Israel. The organization led efforts to oppose the Obama-era Iran Deal, and led support of the Trump Administration’s withdrawal of that deal. However, AIPAC is all but a small part of a pro-Israeli lobby. For example, since 1990, the pro-Israeli lobby has inserted around $143,362,385 into its lobbying efforts.
Could Congresswoman Omar have reworded her tweet in a better way? Sure, but to levy accusations of anti-Semitism against her is completely slanderous when it is clear that her tweet was referring to the pro-Israel lobby. In fact, President Donald Trump, who has called on Omar to resign, and his allies in Congress have all taken an actual anti-Semitic position. GOP leader McCarthy accused three Jewish billionaires — George Soros, Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg — of trying to influence the 2018 midterms. Another Congressman who espoused anti-Semitism is Steve Scalise (R-La.), who, in 2002, attended a white supremacist convention hosted by David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader. The President has even enabled anti-Semitic remarks throughout his 2016 campaign and during his time in the Oval Office. For example, during his campaign, the president refused to criticize David Duke, and has stated that there were “good people on both sides,” after a neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Va. In fact, the president continued his prejudiced remarks when he stated that anti-Semitism is, “deep seated in her heart,” when referring to Omar in this Islamophobic trope.
Congresswoman Omar apologized for her remarks after a malign campaign of slander by the Democratic leadership and the Republican opposition. All Omar was doing was stating the obvious about how powerful lobbyists have become — especially the pro-Israel lobby. However, Israel is considered to be untouchable for most politicians, even while Israel pursues undemocratic and apartheid-esque policies towards the occupied Palestinians.