This weekend, anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Rep. Ilhan Omar, a woman who had previously argued that Jews had hypnotized the world for their “evil” deeds, claimed that Americans only supported Israel because of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) “Benjamins”— and then retweeted a person pointing out that she might as well call all Jews “hooked nose.”
Though Nancy Pelosi, who put Omar on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, offered a condemnation of the Minnesota congresswoman’s comments, many progressives jumped immediately to her defense. Some of them implored Omar to stop deploying these ugly tropes because they undermine what is a completely reasonable position towards the Jewish state. (Omar has since apologized, promising to avoid these tropes when peddling her anti-Semitism.)
The problem is that “anti-Zionism,” the predominant justification for violence, murder, and hatred against Jews in Europe and the Middle East, is a growing position on the American left. While Omar embraces the worst caricatures of this ideology, it’s her core contention regarding the Jewish state–not her clumsy “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”-style insults, which are just a manifestation of her underlying position—that are most consequential.
One of the dishonest arguments regarding Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who we recently found out wrote a piece for a publication of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, is that they are merely being “critical of Israel.” Yet no serious person has ever made the claim that being critical of Israel’s policies is anti-Semitic. Israel has had both left-wing and right-wing governments over the years. And like governments in any liberal democracy, they can be corrupt, misguided, or incompetent. Millions of Israelis are critical of their own nation’s policies every year without any fear of repercussions. Israel isn’t Iran or Turkey, countries that most of Israel’s critics never disparage.
But the best way to gauge if a person is merely being “critical” of Israel’s policies or critical of the existence of the Jewish state is to use Natan Sharansky’s 3-d test: 1) Do they engage in “delegitimization” of the nation’s existence, as every supporter of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) does? 2) Do they engage in “demonization” of that country, as people who claim Israelis hypnotize the world for evil or go around murdering children for kicks do? 3) Do they engage in “double standards,” like having an obsession with Israel and AIPAC, while ignoring illiberalism found throughout the Islamic world or things like Muslim concentration camps found in China?
The second myth pushed by Omar’s defenders is that Israel dictates American foreign policy with its shekels. The first part of this argument is absurd when one considers that over the past few years the American government passed the Iran deal – which Israel saw as an existential threat– and the American president has embraced the idea of withdrawing troops from Syria. Most of the time, the United States sides with Israel because most of the time Israel’s ideals comport with our own.
Then, of course, there’s a significant difference between contending that you disagree with AIPAC’s positions and contending that AIPAC bribes Americans with lots of Benjamins. For starters, it’s a lie, since AIPAC doesn’t give any money to politicians. And as Emily Zanotti, and others have pointed out, AIPAC,with all its supernatural ability to hypnotize lawmakers, spends around $3.5 million on lobbying for Israel policies in a good year. “It barely even cracks the top 50, is dwarfed by the *beer wholesalers*” Zanotti writes. “In contrast, Planned Parenthood’s PAC spent $20M in 2016.”
Although it might be tough for progressives to understand, many Americans still prefer Israel over Hamas, the PLO, and Iran for reasons other than money. For example, a shared understanding of liberalism, theological reasons, historic ties, political realities, and practical geopolitical reasons, although I concede that contemporary progressives might not embrace these values anymore. For many decades, however, polls showed widespread support for Israel. AIPAC’s success is predicated on that support.
Some of Omar’s defenders also engaged in a little whataboutism by pointing out that Republicans have had their own anti-Semitic problems. I’m sure they do. But I hate to break the news to people: being critical of billionaire activist George Soros, who happens to be Jewish but holds positions on Israel that are generally in line with Omar’s, is not automatically anti-Semitic—or no more than attacking Sheldon Adelson is anti-Semitic. Omar’s Jewish stereotypes were aimed at all defenders of Israel.
It will be interesting to see how the Democratic Party’s presidential hopefuls react to Omar’s comments, which has increasing currency in the activist wing of their party. On this issue, there is a big rift opening between young and old. That does not bode well for the establishment or Jews.