The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Ilhan Omar’s Remarks about Israel Don’t Provoke the Ire of Many Democrats

Representative Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) participates in a gun violence prevention roundtable with former Representative Gabby Giffords in Minneapolis, Minn., October 26, 2018. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Ilhan Omar demonstrates that Democrats aren’t really that upset about anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Most Democrats Are Fine with Ilhan Omar’s Comments About ‘Allegiance to a Foreign Country’

In case you’ve lost track of what the latest controversy surrounding Representative Ilhan Omar is about, during an appearance at a Washington D.C. bookstore, she declared, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

This was in the context of a discussion about U.S. policy towards Israel and the controversy surrounding her remarks from three weeks earlier, when she had said that Congressional support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins, baby” and funded by AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee. Now it’s not clear whether the House will even consider a resolution denouncing anti-Semitism.

The bookstore remarks were a separate controversy from her previous labeling of Israel as an “apartheid regime,” which was separate from her previous declaration that “Israel has hypnotized the world,” and her conspiracy theory about Senator Lindsey Graham, declaring, “They got to him, he is compromised.” Oh, and for good measure, she contended that Donald Trump had a “culture of intolerance that emboldens racist individuals to acts of violence.”

After the “all about the Benjamins” comment, Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer declared, “Rep. Omar’s use of an anti-Semitic stereotype was offensive and irresponsible. This kind of intolerance has no place in Congress — or anywhere in American society. No one should invoke anti-Semitic tropes during policy disagreements.”

That’s all nice to hear, but if he really believed that, he and other Democrats would stop giving Omar a slap on the wrist after the fourth or fifth offense. There’s also surprisingly little discussion about Omar accusing her Jewish Democratic colleagues of anti-Muslim bias while speaking at the bookstore: “What I’m fearful of — because Rashida and I are Muslim — that a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we are Muslim.”

It’s also worth noting that in her complaints about “political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” we’ve never heard Omar lodge any complaints about the Arab American Institute, the Armenian Association of America, the Cuban American National Foundation. We’ve never heard her lament about the lobbying firm Akin Gump working for the United Arab Emirates, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, or the government of the Marshall Islands.

No, when Ilhan Omar complains about foreign influence on U.S. decision-making, she really only complains about one country.

When you look at the numbers, Israel is one of many, ranking highly, but not quite the biggest spender. More than 300 lobbying firms represent 409 foreign countries and foreign interests, and since January 2017, they’ve collectively spent $857 million on lobbying and public-relations campaigns.

The top spender is the government of South Korea, having spent more than $57 million. The second is the government of Bermuda (!) with almost $53 million. The Japanese government comes in third with $45.5 million. Israel’s government comes in fourth, having spent a bit more than half South Korea, at $34.6 million. When you add in non-government organizations such as the World Zionist Organization and Jewish Agency for Israel, Israeli-affiliated groups rise to second-highest on the list — still behind South Korea, because their non-government spending includes the Korean Broadcasting Company, the Korean Institute for International Economic Policy, the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation, and the Korean International Trade Association.

(Have you ever heard anyone complaining about the powerful South Korean lobby?)

There are fair criticisms of Israel. The Israel Defense Forces almost never use a light touch. The Israeli government knows new construction in disputed territories will stir up a hornet’s nest and they do it anyway. They’re determined to demonstrate complete military dominance of their territory and surrounding region, and that approach inevitably fuels further conflict and confrontation.

But after your neighbors tried to invade a few times and keep pledging to kill you, when foreign leaders keep promising to wipe you off the map, and when the United Nations keeps picking on you as the world’s worst villain while genocides and bloody civil wars are ongoing elsewhere, you’re probably going to live on a hair-trigger and to tune out all criticism.

In the wide range of U.S. allies and countries we’re on good terms with, Israel’s nowhere near the most morally questionable. We give a lot of aid to Pakistan, and we’re not even sure how much of their government opposes the guys who want to kill us. China still has “most favored nation” trade status, and they’ve got a million Uighurs in reeducation camps. Ask the Kurds about Turkey. We’ve just had a long-overdue national discussion about our relationship with the Saudi royal family and its actions. We were really happy to warm up our relations with Myanmar under Aung San Suu Kyi, and now their government is turning a blind eye to massacres of the Rohingya.

Again — if you’re always furious about Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, but never utter a word about the Uighurs, Kurds, or Rohingya, people start to think you’re just obsessed with hating the world’s lone Jewish country.

Anti-Semitic Conspiracy Theories Represent the Losers’ Hunt for Scapegoats

Let’s go back to one of the first articles I wrote for National Review Online, after I spent two weeks in Cairo, Egypt in 2003. (The Iraq War had just started, and I was one of the few palefaces on the street. Good times, good times . . . ) It will not surprise you that the Egyptian media — either state-run or state-censored — blamed Israel for just about everything under the sun.

Even with tourism revenues, U.S. foreign aid, the Suez Canal, relative stability and one of the better economies of the region, Egypt’s still got a lot of problems: poverty on a scale difficult for Americans to grasp, limited economic opportunity, about a quarter of the population still illiterate, new infrastructure gleaming in a few places but falling apart everywhere else, and unbearable smog over Cairo. I recall seeing a lot of de facto wheelchair ramps on every corner, made out of compressed garbage.

It was a similar story when I was over in Turkey from 2005 to 2007; Turkish translations of Mein Kampf prominently displayed on bookstore tables and all kinds of conspiracy theories.

I can see why the Egyptian government and state-run media — and their counterparts in other Arab and Muslim counties — would blame Israel for everything. It’s a handy excuse! Those governments don’t have to take responsibility for their countries’ poverty, illiteracy, lack of opportunity, infrastructure, and education problems when there’s always the Jews to blame. If Israel and the Jews are responsible for all of the problems of Egypt or Turkey (or insert any other Muslim country here), then it’s not the fault of the local governments, never mind how blatantly corrupt, incompetent, kleptocratic, autocratic, or brutal they are.

What I can’t understand is why any American would go along with that don’t-blame-us, it’s-all-the-Jews-fault fairy tale. It’s like helping an addict deny the problem when there’s a rehab center right next door. These countries don’t have to be unstable basket cases with looted treasuries and rampant human-rights abuses.

Anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists rarely acknowledge that if sinister Jewish powers really are trying to keep Arabs and Muslims down, they’ve done a really hit-and-miss job with it.

Despite all of Turkey’s current problems, the country’s post-Ataturk history demonstrates a Muslim country can prosper with free elections, a fairly free media and expression, and separation of mosque and state. (Okay, and maybe a military coup once a decade or so to reset the system.) There are plenty of Muslim countries where the problem isn’t a lack of resources. Morocco, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates have figured out stability and economic prosperity. Despite living in one of the roughest regional neighborhoods on earth, Jordan has developed a skilled workforce and comparative stability. Tunisia adopted a new constitution and has held full parliamentary and presidential elections.

“The Jews secretly control everything and are holding us down” is the rallying cry of the paranoid loser. Unfortunately, the world has a lot of losers who are eager to embrace any explanation that lets them off the hook.

Finally, is it really all that surprising that most Americans feel closer to Israel, the pro-Western democracy full of beautiful women carrying automatic weapons, compared with the Palestinians, who let Hamas make their case for them?  Hamas runs around in white hoods and robes that would blend in well at a Ku Klux Klan rally (or the Virginia governor’s mansion).

Democrats to Biden: Hurry Up, Either You’re In Or You’re Out

The New York Times reports that Democrats are getting impatient about Joe Biden’s decision.

At times like this, it’s worth remembering that the political landscape can change really dramatically, really quickly. The New York Times didn’t mention Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s name until May 29, 2018, about a month before the Democratic congressional primary.

Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s name appeared 33 articles on the New York Times newspaper and web site in the seven days of March, as of 9 a.m. this morning.

ADDENDUM: McClatchy’s David Lightman writes about the growth of conservative podcasts.

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