In January 2019, claims of “anti-Semitism”  from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) came after Senators Sanders and Feinstein strongly opposed anti-BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) legislation despite them never stating their support for BDS. Meanwhile, Representatives Omar and Tlaib stated their support for the BDS movement to legally protest Israel’s policies and human rights violations against Palestinians.

GOP Congressman McCarthy then threatened Reps. Omar and Tlaiib for criticizing Israel. Journalist Glenn Greenwald subsequently posted a tweet that called out McCarthy. In response, Rep. Omar retweeted Greenwald with the caption: “It’s all about the Benjamins.”

When asked what she meant, Omar responded, “AIPAC,” referring to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Since that time there has been an ongoing debate about whether Omar’s tweets were anti-semitic. She has since deleted the tweets but has clarified the context within which she made those comments. Omar’s apologies have not been accepted, those who support AIPAC and the AJC continue to defend their lobbying work with the U.S., legislation has been introduced to address bigotry, and Omar has since encountered violent opposition.

Based on our research, it is our conclusion that Rep. Omar’s comments were not anti-semitic and the issues she has raised concerning the corrupting influence of money in our political system and the importance of fighting for our 1st amendment rights are incredibly important and long overdue issues that warrant healthy debate.

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The Facts

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#1: Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments are not anti-Semitic because (1) she is not making a stereotype but is merely stating the fact that money in politics has power, and (2) her criticisms have been consistent as a Justice Democrat who is committed to ending the corrupting influence of money in our political system.

The Facts

“Super PACs should be banned, private donations to politicians and campaigns should be banned, and a clean public financing system should be implemented to end the takeover of our government by corporations and billionaires. Americans deserve free and fair elections — free from the corruption of big money donors. The Supreme Court has effectively legalized bribery. We need public financing of our elections.”AIPAC is not a PAC, so it cannot contribute to campaigns; however, it does give a lot of money to pro-Israel organizations that do donate to campaigns. They are a significant player in terms of lobbying, accounting for the vast majority of lobbying spending by pro-Israel groups, spending more than $3.5 million in 2018.

  • AIPAC is not a PAC, so it cannot contribute to campaigns; however, it does give a lot of money to pro-Israel organizations that do donate to campaigns. They are a significant player in terms of lobbying, accounting for the vast majority of lobbying spending by pro-Israel groups, spending more than $3.5 million in 2018.

#2: Is any criticism of AIPAC or Israel anti-Semitic, or is this a way to shut down debate and distract from the real concerns over the influence of money in politics and the anti-humanitarian treatment of Palestinians by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF)?

The Facts

“Anti-semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

This definition has been endorsed by the American Jewish Committee (who criticized Omar’s comments as anti-semitic), The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), the Trump administration, the U.S. State Department, and 31 countries.
  • Although the The European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC) working definition is the most widely adopted, it does draw criticism that some use the definition to censor debate, conflating legitimate concerns with Israel as anti-Jewish.
    • Stephen Sedley, British lawyer and visiting professor at the University of Oxford, former judge of the court of appeal of England and Wales:
    • “It ought to adopt an explicit rider that it is not anti semitic to criticise the government of Israel, or to hold the Israeli government to the same standards as other liberal democracies, without additional evidence to suggest anti-semitic intent.”
    • Laura Janner-Klausner, senior rabbi of Reform Judaism and a joint British-Israeli citizen: “If the Labour party wanted to prioritise antisemitism by choosing a bespoke definition then it could have listened to the full diversity of the Jewish community. We did speak out – loudly. Jews and allies stridently called on the Labour NEC to consult widely. This did not happen. […] We can criticise the Israeli government, just as we can the British one.”
    • Geoffrey Bindman, a QC, solicitor and visiting professor of law at University College London and London South Bank University: “Unfortunately, the definition and the examples are poorly drafted, misleading, and in practice have led to the suppression of legitimate debate and freedom of expression. Nevertheless, clumsily worded as it is, the definition does describe the essence of antisemitism: irrational hostility towards Jews.”
    • Jacqueline Rose, co-director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities and co-founder of Independent Jewish Voices in the UK: “We need to go on debating and talking, always alert to the possibility that any one definition, however well-intentioned, however designed to protect the Jews from the suffering and ravages of their own history, might be harnessed on the side of injustice.”
  • Those condemning Omar do not accept her apology and have disregarded the context and intent that Rep. Omar has made clear.
    • Rep. Omar has apologized for the remarks, but she insists that the context in which she makes them is important for us to consider and discuss.
    • Cary Nelson and Kenneth Stern of the American Jewish Committee warn against this: “The ‘working definition’ is a useful tool to identify statements that merit attention on campus, but deciding whether a given remark is anti-semitic can require careful attention to rhetoric, context, and even intent. As the AAUP has suggested, even objectionable statements can have content worthy of debate. Most individual remarks, moreover, do not rise to the level of creating hostile environments.”
    • After Omar’s apology on February 11, AIPAC posted 10 Tweets throughout the day and every one of them continued to condemn her as being anti-semitic. 1  | 2
    • According to Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times in her article, “Ilhan Omar Apologizes for Statements Condemned as Anti-Semitic,” Omar’s comments are anti-semitic because accusing Jews of using money to get rich plays on a Jewish stereotype that dates back to the Middle Ages.
    • Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism,compared Omar’s comments to people who dress up with a blackface without understanding how it is racist and hurtful to the black community. Pesner went on to explain that AIPAC using their money to influence legislators as their 1st amendment right.

#3: It is important that we don’t conflate anti-semitism with legitimate criticism over the influence of money in politics or questions of expected loyalty to a foreign government. The question we should be asking is why Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments were so readily misconstrued by members of Congress and special interest groups like AIPAC and American Jewish Committee (AJC) who successfully lobby Congress for billions of dollars in military funding for Israel every year.

The Facts

  • Anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories today have a direct link to anti-semitic violence. In recent history, these canards are linked to the attempted bombings of Soros, blaming  the migrant caravan on Soros, and violence in the U.S. and Europe on Jews.
  • AIPAC does not speak for the Jewish community as a whole and we should not conflate a lobbying group with the people of Israel nor the Jewish community in the United States.
  • As a 501(c)(4), AIPAC is not required to disclose the names of its donors, although donors may disclose their contributions to the organization. While AIPAC does not donate money directly to individual candidates and legislators, it lobbies other pro-Israel groups to contribute to compliant public officials, donates money to both major political parties, and lobbies on behalf of pro-Israel legislation.
    • Professional lobbyists peddle their influence to public officials and candidates at the state and federal levels (spending $3,518,028 in 2018), while initiatives in places of worship, communities of color, and in secondary and postsecondary educational institutions take AIPAC’s message to civilians.
  • Kenan, one of the founders of AIPAC, was originally a member of the American Zionist Council (AZC). In November 1962, the Justice Department ordered the AZC to register as a foreign agent. Kenan left the AZC and formed AIPAC to avoid having to register.
    • Kenan has also explained that he changed the organization’s name to AIPAC “to enlarge constituency and support.”
    • An article in the Washington Post refers to AIPAC’s formation in the 1950s as an attempt to spin positive PR in the aftermath of Israeli war crimes committed against the Palestinian village of Qibya.
  • As a 501(c)(3), the American Jewish Committee (AJC) has a more easily accessible paper trail than a 501(c)(4). It has been in operation since 1906 and has numerous offices in the United States and around the world on five of the seven continents. Like AIPAC, it is involved in pro-Israel lobbying efforts, such as working to pass anti-BDS legislation, albeit on a smaller scale.
    • Between 1998 and 2017, its annual lobbying budget averaged $150,913.50, with its 2018 reported expenditures at $54,000 over the first three quarters of the year. This results in fewer lobbyists and no contact expenses during lobbying.
    • Lobbying and donations to political campaigns violate the organization’s 501(c)(3) non-profit designation. The IRS states that 501(c)(3)s are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”
    • In addition to lobbying, the AJC’s influence exists in the form of donations to political candidates and incumbent legislators. It also funds junkets for Congressional staff and, as of 2019, U.S. mayors to Israel. In addition to influencing U.S. decision makers, the AJC writes grants to domestic and international humanitarian nonprofits, academic institutions, and initiatives in the interests of Jews around the world.
  • The U.S. has been providing significant monetary assistance, defense funding, and equipment to Israel since 1947 which has increased rapidly in the latter years. In 2018, the Senate approved a $38 billion dollar military aid package to Israel.

#4: There is an effort in the U.S. to undermine the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement, which is a grassroots, non-violent movement that applies economic pressure on the Israeli government to end its town-settlements and violence against the Palestinian people. By preventing any criticism or action to hold Israel accountable, the U.S. is directly involved in the exacerbation of the ongoing human rights abuses in Palestine and ignoring 1st Amendment concerns. As a result, many organizations (BLM & ACLU) and politicians (Omar, Tlaib, Sanders and Feinstein) are fighting the anti-BDS assault on grounds it is an assault on 1st amendment rights.

The Facts

  • Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity. Israel is occupying and colonizing Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.
  • While the U.S. does not have official policy on BDS, the U.S. has been providing significant monetary assistance, defense funding, and equipment to Israel since 1947 which has increased rapidly in the latter years. Additionally, opposition has launched a “lawfare” campaign to ban BDS in 20 U.S. states and other countries.
    • In 2018, the Senate approved a $38 billion dollar military aid package to Israel.
    • Mike Pence stated BDS has no place in the market after the decision to disallow Jewish AirBNBs in the Westbank and Jerusalem.
    • Bills in Senate and Congress to ban BDS: “Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S.720 and H.R.1697) and the Combating BDS Act of 2017 (S.170 and H.R. 2856)”
      • Bill in the Senate would empower the states in their efforts to ban BDS.
      • These bills are criticized for infringing free-speech, particularly by Bernie Sanders and the ACLU.
      • In the Senate, Sanders and Feinstein strongly oppose the anti-BDS legislation and in the House Omar and Tlaib are expressly in support of BDS, which precipitated the controversy described in Main Point 1.
      • Over a dozen states adopted legislation banning BDS, for which the ACLU is fighting. Over 20 states are working to do such bans.

#5: One of the main reasons the anti-BDS voice is strong in America is due to special interest groups such as American Jewish Committee (AJC) and AIPAC who use money and access to influence U.S. politicians, legislation, and public opinion to the benefit of Israel.

“(AJC) sought to influence state, federal, and national policy through direct contact with legislators, their staff, and government officials at the state and federal level. AJC staff and lay leaders held meetings on a regular basis with these individuals.” The primary focus of these meetings was “foreign affairs legislation (including extension of sanctions on Iran and support for U.S.-Israel cooperation); measures directed against boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel; immigration policy (including support of comprehensive reform); and initiatives relating to civil rights, civil liberties, and religious liberties.”

  • AJC’s non profit 501(c)(3) tax exempt designation states they’re “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.” However, AJC’s history of lobbying activities call into question AJC’s tax exempt non profit status, and the motivation behind their recent attacks against Ilhan Omar.
    • Lobbying includes the Combating BDS Act of 2017 (S. 170/H.R. 2856) and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720/H.R. 1697).
    • They have a record of political contributions to candidates and incumbents supportive of Israel and anti-BDS legislation, and their history of using junkets and special events to “educate” political figures and staff about Israel/anti-BDS legislation.
  • The AIPAC-backed bill, The Combating BDS Act of 2016 (H.R. 4514/S. 2531), resulted in contributions that ranged between $9,000 – $241,000 for each of the representatives who sponsored or co-sponsored the House and Senate Bills.
    • Bob Dold (R-IL-10) introduced the House bill, and received $118,000
    • Mark Kirk (R-IL) introduced the Senate Bill, though his contributions weren’t listed.
    • One Democrat, Kathleen Rice (D-NY-04), co-sponsored the House Bill and received $49,000.
    • Two Democratic Senators, co-sponsors Ben Cardin (D-MD), received $241,000
    • Joe Manchin (D-WV) received $122,000.
    • The other seven co-sponsors of both bills were Republicans.
  • The claims of “anti-Semitism” from the American Jewish Committee (AJC) came after Senators Sanders and Feinstein strongly opposed the anti-BDS legislation without being pro BDS, while Representatives Omar and Tlaib have stated their support for the BDS movement to legally protest Israel’s policies and human rights violations against Palestinians. The tweet referring to AIPAC’s money influence in politics was in response to an attack from a GOP congress member threatening retaliation for Omar’s comments.

#6: Speaker Nancy Pelosi originally called for a vote on a House Resolution condemning anti-Semitic remarks without directly mentioning Rep. Omar, yet the timing was such to indirectly condemn the freshman congresswoman. Pelosi’s inconsistency with standing up against bigotry is concerning and calls into question her motives at worst, her biases at best.

The Facts

  • The House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the resolution broadly calling out hate. The measure specifically decried

“imputations of dual loyalty” that “suggests that Jewish citizens cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors, when Jews have loyally served our Nation every day since its founding.”

  • Pelosi and House leadership did not change the wording of the resolution until receiving harsh critique from members of the House Democratic caucus and grassroots organizations to include anti-Muslim discrimination and all forms of bigotry.
  • Upon becoming Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi chose to not call for a House Resolution against opposition members who have clearly made anti-Semitic comments, including Kevin McCarthy and Steve King.
  • Speaker Pelosi also chose to not call for a House Resolution against the long history of anti-Semitic remarks made by President Donald Trump, including a 2016 tweet which used Jewish imagery to attack Hillary Clinton.

TAKE ACTION

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We will no longer be silenced.

GOAL

  • Contact AIPAC, AJC, Nancy Pelosi, and Anti-Defamation League in order to help educate people about anti-semitism and why there is so much support for Rep. Ilhan Omar.
  • Help educate people about antisemitism
  • Help educate people about the concerns raised by Rep. Omar and others concerning the corrupting influence of money in our political system.

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  1. Great post

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