After an exceptional campaign, American Muslim politician Ilhan Omar has once again appeared in the news due to a misplaced comment suggesting that America only supports Israel because of the powerful AIPAC lobby which buys off US politicians.
Responding to the tweets, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, “…Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share. But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive…”
The Reality of Lobbying
Both Rep Omar and Rep Tlaib have openly acknowledged criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and their support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions that places economic pressure on Israel to withdraw from the West Bank and to ensure ‘full equality’ for Arab-Palestinians.
As journalist Glenn Greenwald tweeted, “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment of @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
Glenn adds in a further tweet suggesting that the “monied interests of Washington are true, and to call that anti-Semitic is just obscene.”
Here's the second part of my answer about the @IlhanMN controversy, in which the superbly mischievous side of Amy Goodman emerged to ask my views of the attempts by @ChelseaClinton, of all people, to dictate the bounds of acceptable debate over Israel and Palestine: pic.twitter.com/f5OwqAjE2m
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) February 11, 2019
Indeed the effect and influence of lobby groups in the United States, and their impact on the legislative process was recently raised when another politician, Rep Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, spoke about the influence of lobbying.
The explosive conversation, shared by British comedian James Corden, is a shocking expose of how easy it is for politicians to be swayed:
Oh my god. This is just sensational. Please watch and retweet. pic.twitter.com/ackPHwAUce
— James Corden (@JKCorden) February 7, 2019
Holocaust Memorial Day
These events took place just weeks after Holocaust Memorial Day where at a service in London, Rabbi Helen Freeman of the West London Synagogue said,
“January 27th is Holocaust Memorial Day. It marks the liberation of Auschwitz. What’s important for us to remember is that it marks the persecution of not only Jews but of gays, of political opponents, of the disabled, and of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and of all other genocides that have occurred from that day to this.
“And so when we have a service, it is all about countering prejudice and persecution. It might be about Darfur, it might be about Bosnia, Rwanda. Whenever there is a persecuted minority, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and all those of good faith try to build a better world by countering prejudice.”
So while speaking out against oppression is important, a line must be drawn between legitimate criticism of a nation vs expressing anti-Semitic remarks. Where this line sits is at times blurred, as commentator Mehdi Hasan observed in a Tweet, “I wanted to do this #thread pointing out the absurdity of saying it’s off limits to mention money and support for Israel when the US media (rightly) does mention money, influence-peddling & lobbying when it comes to Saudi Arabia and DC.”
So, on the whole @IlhanMN controversy, I wanted to do this #thread pointing out the absurdity of saying it's off limits to mention money and support for Israel, when the US media (rightly) does mention money, influence-peddling & lobbying when it comes to Saudi Arabia and DC.
— Mehdi Hasan (@mehdirhasan) February 11, 2019
Doing the Right Thing
Acknowledging that some may have become upset at her tongue-in-cheek criticism of Israel and lobbying on Twitter, Rep Omar did a brave thing, the right thing, as she apologized, writing, “Listening and learning, but standing strong” in a tweet, before expressing her thanks to Jewish colleague for reaching out and helping her understand better the importance of language.
Listening and learning, but standing strong 💪🏽 pic.twitter.com/7TSroSf8h1
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
Last week in Brussels when speaking of the Liberation Route, a path that tracks the Allied Forces as they made their way into and so liberated Europe from Nazis, former EU President and current Bundestag member, Martin Schulz said:
“75 years after the end of the second world war, the route of liberation led to the liberation of Germany of my nation from the Nazi dictatorship. And was contributing, therefore, to create in Germany a sustainable democracy.
“That’s the reason why I support the liberation route as a post-war German, who profited his whole life from this liberation from terrorism and dictatorship and creating democracy.”
If our democracies are to thrive, we must all be open to constructive and valid criticism while respecting the importance of sensibilities.
Since the Jewish Holocaust, other genocides have taken place (Bosnia) and continue to take place (Rohingya), not to mention large scale incarceration of Muslims in a region of China taking place today.
Some will say Rep Omar shouldn’t have apologized, others will say she should have apologized. What matters is that she did apologize, and moving forward with direction and support of her Jewish colleagues and allies, may help ensure that commentary in the future remains better balanced, allowing valid criticism without causing offense.