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Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar Draws Ire for 'Accurately Describing How the Israel Lobby Works'

"Lobbies influence politics, I don't think that’s controversial to say," said the director of Jewish Voice for Peace

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) pointed out on Sunday that AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobying group, donates money to pro-Israel causes in the U.S. (Photo: Lorie Shaull/Flickr/cc)

A progressive Jewish group was among the many who defended Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) late Sunday after conservatives and centrist Democrats attacked her for simply acknowledging that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, gives millions of dollars to pro-Israel causes each year.

As one reporter noted on Twitter, "accurately describing how the Israel lobby works is not anti-Semitism."

Omar was accused of anti-Semitism after tweeting, "It's all about the Benjamins" in response to a news story about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) threatening "action" against herself and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who has also been outspoken in her pro-Palestine stance and has been accused of anti-Semitism as a result. McCarthy also said that Omar and Tlaib's pro-Palestine comments have been "more" reprehensible than Rep. Steve King's (R-Iowa) history of open white supremacy.

She then added that AIPAC donates funds to secure pro-Israel legislation from Congress—in the same way that pro-gun lawmakers receive support from the NRA and unions donate to the campaigns of pro-labor politicians.

The remark was quickly denounced as anti-Semitic by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which demanded an apology, and other influential pro-Israel political figures including Chelsea Clinton.

Far from "demonstrably false," many pointed out, the fact that AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups financially support lawmakers and pro-Israel legislation is easily accessible information.

The Center for Responsive Politics shows that AIPAC spent more than $3.5 million in 2018 on pro-Israel measures that lawmakers voted on, including funding for Israel and the bipartisan Senate bill to ban boycotts of Israeli goods and services, which passed last week. Eighteen senators and 13 members of the House also received more than $100,000 each from pro-Israel groups.   

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"Would talking about the role of the NRA on gun control laws attract this kind of attention? Lobbies influence politics, I don't think that’s controversial to say," said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald was among those who argued that suggesting all Jewish people are represented by AIPAC, the pro-Israel lobby, and the Israeli government which benefits from the lobby's work and which has overseen what the U.N. recognizes as an apartheid state and persecuted Palestinians for decades, was far more anti-Semitic than Omar's comment.

At Informed Comment, Juan Cole noted that Omar's comments didn't offer a full portrayal of how AIPAC operates in order to secure pro-Israel positions from lawmakers.

"Consideration of the Israel lobbies," Cole wrote, should not "only focus on money. Their propaganda techniques, for instance of equating any criticism of Israeli colonization of the Palestinian West Bank to terrorism, are also extremely effective."

"But it certainly is the case that many American politicians are funded by the Israel lobbies, coordinated by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and the shocked protests to the contrary by the Washington elite are disingenuous or propaganda," he added.

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