“Years ago, when Wolf Blitzer was an AIPAC employee and we appeared together on a panel discussion, he literally shouted at me that, as Americans, AIPAC members had the right to lobby Congress. My response then was the same as it is now: when lobbying is being done for a foreign government, as AIPAC does, it’s wrong.” ~Sam Husseini
As a virtual lynch mob moves to chastise Rep. Ilhan Omar over her recent remarks around Israel, the new congresswoman basically has three options before her: (1) Fold; (2) Continue the back and forth of the last several weeks or (3) Get more specific and expand the public critique.
The current back and forth may be alluring for Rep. Omar. It keeps her the center of much attention, but I fear it will likely presage little positive change in U.S. policy or increase the prospects for a just peace in the Middle East. It feels to me rather like how Yasser Arafat acted on occasion, a sort of longterm game of crit and retreat that might make for a thrilling, star-studded career, but ends up amounting to surprisingly little.
Former Senator James Abourezk, possibly the most radical senator of the post-World War II era wrote in 2011: “Years ago, when Wolf Blitzer was an AIPAC employee and we appeared together on a panel discussion, he literally shouted at me that, as Americans, AIPAC members had the right to lobby Congress. My response then was the same as it is now: when lobbying is being done for a foreign government, as AIPAC does, it’s wrong.”
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists hosted a live international news conference in Washington DC, to announce the 2019 time of the Doomsday Clock. “Israel’s weapons must be included.” Just a few words on Israel and nuclear weapons.
Grant Smith, author of Big Israel, has tracked the history of how AIPAC avoided the law. He writes that In 1962, AIPAC, which actually began as a project of the American Zionist Council, “was ordered to register as an Israeli foreign agent. The Justice Department kept this fact secret until 2010. It has never tried to enforce the order.” Imagine how much more quickly the U.S. Jewish community could have found its own voice rather than be pigeonholed regarding Israel if the law was enforced.
Much of Rep. Omar’s comments to date have been about herself, about her relationship to Jews and Jewish constituents. What they have been insufficiently about is actual Israeli and U.S. government policy towards the Palestinians and others.
For example, talking about U.S. policy being literally “all about the benjamins” is highly dubious. Money is certainly a needed ingredient, but the U.S. government’s backing of Israel more than anything has to do with geopolitics, most obviously Israel effectively crushing Arab nationalism in 1967, preventing the development of the region along lines remotely responsive to the people of the region.
Some are long crying out for public discussion: The U.S. government refuses to acknowledge — as a matter of policy — that Israel has nuclear weapons. I know, I’ve asked numerous politicos about this. In 2011, when Mike Pence was on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — the same committee Rep. Omar is on now (and what AIPAC is quite clearly aiming to get her off of) — his response was nearly comical. If you haven’t, see for yourself (video). But of course Pence wasn’t laughed out of Washington, D.C. or widely derided — he attained the vice presidency.
With Rep. Omar being the center of much attention just now, her highlighting Israeli criminality and nuclear threats to humanity itself could have an immeasurable positive effect. Recall that when George Galloway was at the center of enormous attacks over the alleged “oil for food” scandal in 2005, he turned the tables and derided Sen. Norm Coleman and the entire political class over the Iraq invasion being based on a “pack of lies” to great effect; Coleman would go on to lose his Senate seat. See video.
Some, including Rep. Omar, ask why people can freely talk about the influence of the NRA and not AIPAC — and it’s a good question, but also ironic: Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, has argued focusing just on the role of the NRA distracts from the settler colonial origins of the Second Amendment.
Indeed, perhaps the most potentially profound of Omar’s recent tweets are ones like this:
“I am told every day that I am anti-American if I am not pro-Israel. I find that to be problematic and I am not alone. I just happen to be willing to speak up on it and open myself to attacks.”
This all depends on how you define the U.S. and how you define Israel. I increasingly don’t see countries. I see forces. And what many mean when they talk about a “special relationship” between the U.S. and Israel — whether they acknowledged it or not — is the settler colonial pattern they have both followed.
The origins of this connection is examined by Rev. Michael Prior, in an essay titled “The Right to Expel: The Bible and Ethnic Cleansing” for the book Palestinian Refugees: The Right of Return: “The term ‘ethnic cleansing’ itself, I suggest, is related to a conflation of the biblical notions of ‘unclean’/profane’ with the command to ‘drive out’ the inhabitants of Canaan (Exodus 23-24; Numbers 33; Deuteronomy 33 and Joshua), because, according to the biblical legend, they had defiled themselves by their evil practices (Leviticus 18:24). Uniquely in ancient literature, the biblical legend projects the extermination of the defiled indigenes as a divine mandate. With the authority of its religious provenance that value system has been incorporated into European imperialist ideologies, ‘legitimizing’ the destruction or displacement of indigenous peoples.”
That is, the most gruesome part of the Old Testament was used as justification for settlers in what would become the U.S., killing and robbing the native inhabitants. And the same mentality is now used once again in the land of Canaan. At a very high standard, Rep. Omar cannot claim that she is free from anti-Israel bias if she singles out Israel’s settler colonialism but engages in mythology regarding the U.S.’s settler colonialism and continued imperial politics. This includes a worldwide system of bases, divide-and-rule practices in the Middle East and elsewhere, a renewed explicit commitment to the Monroe Doctrine now targeting Venezuela to mention a few.
She did confront some of this when recently questioning U.S. envoy to Venezuela Elliott Abrams, a criminal abettor of genocide. She questioned Abrams far more strongly than any of the other congressional representatives, but when he claimed the U.S. government wanted democracy, she extraordinarily agreed.
The criminal rot of imperial policies that is highlighted by the U.S.-Israeli “special relationship” rests on lies and ridiculous absurdities and is therefore vulnerable, but it runs deep and it will take a very determined critique to dislodge. Many are now saying #StandWithIlhan, but a huge question is how firmly she will stand.