Since I defended Ilhan Omar in my last post, I feel obliged to comment on her latest twitter trouble. Responding indirectly to an attack on her by Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, the Congresswoman shot off a tweet suggesting that Congressional fealty to Israel was “all about” the money that the Israel lobby, specifically the American Israel Public Affair Committee (AIPAC), wields on behalf of friendly politicians. Omar’s tweet drew an immediate, sharp rebuke from the Democratic House leadership: Omar was playing into an ancient anti-Semitic trope about the pervasive omnipotence of Jewish money. That is offensive and unacceptable. Omar quickly apologized, acknowledging that she is still learning about the history of anti-Semitism.
Omar’s tweet was naïve in two ways: first, because it was simplistic; and second, because she obviously didn’t anticipate the predictable reaction that it would provoke.
Omar’s tweet was simplistic because the tremendous influence of the Israel lobby isn’t just about money. As I explained several years ago in a post that is still worth reading (no false modesty here), AIPAC’s success reflects a number of factors, including superbly skillful and intensive lobbying and extensive grass roots organization. In narrating the multi-faceted basis of AIPAC’s success, I was differing with a recent newsletter article by veteran Congressional staffer and former AIPAC functionary A. J. Rosenberg, who, like Omar, emphasized the paramount importance of campaign money. But, let’s be clear: money is an important part of AIPAC’s success, and to suggest otherwise is utterly disingenuous. Nancy Pelosi knows this, as do most other member of Congress.
That brings me to the reaction to Omar’s tweet. Undoubtedly, hearing what sounds like the repetition of an old scurrilous stereotype can be genuinely hurtful to the offended group. But I think the swift and furious reaction to Omar’s tweet was not just a reflection of sensitivity to bigotry. It also represents what we can call an opportunistic exploitation of historic victimhood. Because Jews have been an historically oppressed group and that oppression often involved myths about Jews and money and power, you are not allowed to talk about Jews and money and power. And if you can’t talk about that subject, then you are less likely to question the basis for the overwhelming, uncritical support Israel enjoys in the US Congress.
So, I don’t believe that the Democratic leadership’s takedown of Omar is an entirely innocent and virtuous demonstration of zero tolerance for bigotry. Pelosi and her lieutenants don’t want serious criticism of Israel to disrupt their party’s unity—or to hand the Republicans a campaign issue. Omar and others of her ilk must be taken down a notch or three. That’s what this is all about.
Here is a good account of an AIPAC operation. It was, indeed, all about money.