Point of View: Rep. Omar tweets inferring ‘influence-peddling’ a form of anti-Semitism

Point of View: Rep. Omar tweets inferring ‘influence-peddling’ a form of anti-Semitism

Original Opinion Piece By Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, Senior Rabbi Of the Boca Raton Synagogue

How did this shift from overwhelming support of AIPAC to identifying with J Street happen?

Not too long ago, Democrats and Republicans alike positioned for speaking slots at the AIPAC conference, the annual gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Regardless of politics, parties or proposed solutions to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, members of both sides of the aisle equally saw it as their duty to advocate for a strong, secure and Democratic State of Israel and for the U.S.-Israel alliance.

This month however, something significant changed. Democratic presidential candidates lined up to deliver remarks to J Street’s conference, a gathering that historically spends more focus on criticizing Israel’s policies than advocating for them, and on representing the Palestinians, rather than holding them accountable. These candidates for president all shared the stage with Israel antagonists like Saeb Erekat and advocates vocally supported “Americans’ constitutional right to boycott Israel.

How did this shift from overwhelming support of AIPAC to identifying with J Street happen?

Many theories have been suggested. I would suggest that February 2019 was a turning point.

In a series of tweets and public statements early this year, newly elected Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar singled out AIPAC as the example of Jews purchasing influence in Congress. In doing so, she traded in both “new age” and “old fashioned” anti-Semitism all at once.

To refresh our recollection, Omar was responding to a tweet from decidedly anti-Israel journalist (Glenn Greenwald), who chose to a statement equating of criticism of Israel with white supremacy. In response to Greenwald’s post, Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” followed by a music emoji, which suggested that money was calling the tune. When asked to explain where the money she was referring to came from, Omar tweeted: “AIPAC.” There’s no doubt what Omar did and said. She co-opted one of the oldest forms of anti-Semitism, namely that Jews purchase influence to advance their interests, and explained it in terms of the new anti-Semitism, specifically the dual loyalty of advocating for Israel.

Although there was an initial March 2019 firestorm, and pushback from Israel supporters including her Democratic colleagues, in the end, she walked away not only unscathed, but with greater popularity. Despite promises to hold her accountable, House leaders gave us a watered-down resolution that did nothing to single out her abhorrent remarks. Moreover, allowing Omar to maintain her position on the powerful U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee sent a clear signal that, her views, hate and bigotry would be rewarded.

At a time where racism is met with the righteous indignation it deserves and when hate is increasingly confronted in the clearest terms, the Democratic house leadership met Omar’s anti-Semitism with a moral equivalency, communicated with such subtlety and nuance, it was almost hard to discern at all.

Claiming Jews purchase influence is anti-Semitism. Denying Jewish rights of self-determination is anti-Semitism. Boycotting Israel and disguising it as “legitimate political critique” is anti-Semitism. Plain and simple.

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