What moves the wheels of American politics? Is it a dedicated tireless commitment to public service? A strong desire to better the lives of constituents? A genuine ideology? Maybe sometimes, in the odd rare case. But more often that not, it’s money.
Money funds elections, it funds events all over Washington, it funds lobbyists who work tirelessly to make their cause seem like the only thing worth caring about at any given moment. Single issue partisan groups like the NRA, J Street and Emily’s List spent over $300m in 2018, over $230m of which went directly to candidates. Call me naive, but it seems possible that those donations, often vital to win closely contested districts, could perhaps have an impact on those candidate’s views once elected.
PACs and lobbyists wouldn’t splurge money on politicians if it didn’t have an impact. The sheer volume of the money flying around the Beltway means that if a politician doesn’t take money from someone, they’re behind. So why is it so controversial of Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar to suggest that some people’s views on Israel may be shaped by a pro-Israel lobby?
Kevin McCarthy is decidedly not Jewish. Accusing him of being oversensitive to criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitic. Neither is describing how the pro-Israel lobby works. The activity of AIPAC and other groups like them is completely valid, but they shouldn’t be above criticism: this is America, no one is. Besides, Omar didn’t accuse American Jews of anything untoward. She just said that pro-Israel groups spend a lot of money in Washington, which is a fact.
I don’t know if deep down Ilhan Omar is an anti-Semite. Her support for the BDS movement and her 2012 tweet saying Israel has ‘hypnotized’ the world make it pretty clear that she’s no big fan of Zionism, but it seems like the ones making the connection between American Jews and Israel are her critics, looking for an excuse to take a shot at her. Compared to those on the British left, her comments are tepid, by no means beyond the pale.
She didn’t imply for example, that American Zionists didn’t understand irony, she didn’t refer to Hamas as her ‘friends’ or refuse to accept a widely held definition of anti-Semitism because it didn’t suit her personal views.
Ilhan Omar may not like Israel. She may hate the idea of the Jewish state and bristle at the presence of a strong pro-Israel lobby in Washington. But none of those things are crimes. When Jewish supporters of Israel take every attack on their views as a threat to Jewish life, when they play the anti-Semitism card the second AIPAC is questioned, it cements in the minds of casual observers that Israel is the only thing they care about.
Plenty of Jewish people don’t support Israel, and plenty do. Instantly branding every critique of Israel or pro-Israel groups as an anti-Semitic attack does neither of them any favors.