With Friends Like These…

Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, one of two Muslim women elected to Congress in the Blue Wave of 2018, is feeling the heat, recently succumbing to pressure to apologize for tweets that the political establishment deemed anti-Semitic.

Rep. Omar committed the unpardonable sin of suggesting that the United States government’s often indulgent attitude to the State of Israel might be influenced by political contributions by the lobbying group AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee).

In reality, there was nothing counter-factual or anti-Semitic about her remarks and she should never have needed to apologize.

To suggest that a lobbying group might exert undue influence on the political process hardly qualifies as a “anti-Semitic trope” or some insidious conspiracy theory. The corrosive, corrupting influence of money in politics is a sad fact of life that extends far past the boundaries of AIPAC’s activities.

The ferocious response to Omar’s comments could be seen as perverse confirmation of the very point the freshman representative was trying to make. Given how meekly Congress responded to blatantly racist comments by white nationalist congressman Steve King of Iowa, it’s hard to imagine what else besides angry donors could have motivated the political machine to react so swiftly to what were comparatively mild statements compared to King’s usual brand of bile.

It should be noted that AIPAC often finds itself at odds with the politics of mainstream Jewish Americans and seems more closely aligned with the interests of right-wing Christians who believe that the existence of Israel (and its ultimate destruction, I remind you) are essential to their insane end-times prophecies.

AIPAC’s favorite tactic is to suggest that any criticism of them or of Israel is nothing but simple anti-Semitism, one step removed from forcing Jews to wear yellow stars while living in ghettoes. This mirrors the blatant demagoguery of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Demonizing those who simply oppose you and your policies is chapter one, page one of Authoritarian Demagoguery 101.

AIPAC has been leading the charge to criminalize the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement, a grassroots effort to hold Israel accountable for its policies and actions toward its own Palestinian citizens. By seeking to criminalize any advocacy for a boycott or other action against Israel, AIPAC has been openly making war on the First Amendment.

Let me make things as clear as I can. Israel is a country, just one of nearly two hundred on Earth, and one that claims to be a Western-style pluralistic democracy in the Middle East. Claiming that label does not give it a free pass from the rest of the Western world, but rather creates a standard of behavior that many in the West, including in the United States, feel the current government of Israel has failed to meet. It is not anti-Semitic to expect Israel to meet that standard or criticize the country’s leaders when they fail to do so.

It is no more anti-Semitic to criticize Prime Minister Netanyahu’s policies than it is racist against Latin Americans to criticize Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for his government’s many failures.

Both Netanyahu’s government and AIPAC want the world to see them as an avatar for Judaism across the world and portray any slight specifically against them as another example of the persecution of Jews throughout history, using the bludgeon of “anti-Semitism” to silence any and all criticism of both Tel Aviv and AIPAC and any dissent from their point of view.

If the United States is Israel’s friend and ally, and we are, that means we are a friend to the people of that nation, all of them regardless of their faith, and regardless of which party or politicians are currently in power. Criticism of Netanyahu and his government’s policies is not an attack on Israel itself. To equate the BDS movement with terrorist groups or Muslim nations that refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist is pure authoritarian demagoguery and needs to be called out as such.

To complain that AIPAC’s influence over United States foreign policy is not always in our nation’s best interest and not sufficiently transparent is not an attack on Israel’s right to exist. It is, instead, a conversation well worth having and long overdue.

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