Saturday, February 23, 2019 | ePaper

Ilhan spoke truth about Israeli fund: Not anti-Semitism

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Representative Ilhan Omar, who has been battling charges of anti-Semitism for weeks, apologized on Monday for insinuating that American support for Israel is fuelled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group - a comment that drew swift and unqualified condemnation from fellow Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as reported in foreign media.
The mea culpa by Ms. Omar, a freshman lawmaker from Minnesota and one of the  first two Muslim women elected to Congress, came after a day of bipartisan outrage over her tweet Sunday night asserting that support for Israel was "all about the Benjamins baby," a reference to hundred-dollar bills. But how offensive is Ms. Omar's Twitter comment linking money from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, to political support in Washington for Israel?
Pro-Israel groups, like AIPAC, have been pouring money into US politics over the past 20 years and their influence in Washington has been scrutinized for nearly as long. However, the amount AIPAC has donated has been dwarfed in recent years by the mega-donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.
The Center for Responsive Politics calls the overall pro-Israel politics lobby one of the most "active and well-financed" groups related to international issues in America: "It's a highly fractious issue with high stakes and it plays a big role in domestic politics." In 2018, these groups (including AIPAC) spent about US$ 5 million on direct lobbying efforts beyond campaign contributions.
Over the past two federal election cycles, pro-Israel groups have given more to Democrats than Republicans. The powerful lobbying group that Omar referenced has been active in the US since the 1960s, foots the bill for dozens of Congress trips to Israel every year, and was a longtime opponent of the Iran nuclear deal the Obama administration crafted. Along with other groups representing Middle Eastern interests, AIPAC has applauded Trump's withdrawal from the deal and the re-imposition of sanctions on Iran.
AIPAC's lobbying and campaign contributions have been much less than the huge influx of cash into US politics from mega-donors Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, who was born in Israel to parents who had emigrated to British-controlled Palestine from Poland in 1930s.
They were the largest donors in the 2018 mid-term elections with US$ 123 million, all of that to Republican political action committees that then funneled millions to incumbents in tough races. Adelson-controlled entities gave US$ 55 million to the Congressional Leadership Fund, for example, which spent US$ 126 million running ads against Democrats.
The Adelsons also fund the Israeli American Council (IAC), a group with 20 chapters around the US that Sheldon Adelson described as a hardline alternative to AIPAC in November 2017. IAC will "unequivocally always without question and irreversibly support Israel when it needed it," he said. "There will be no political correctness. There will be no questions about whether we should keep the door to the White House open to us." Miriam, a doctor who runs drug-treatment clinics in Las Vegas and Israel, is believed to be a key influence on Trump's decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
So we can clearly see that Ilhan Omar has a very valid point. However, are we right to pick on Israel? The progressive answer is straightforward: Israel's opponents say Israel and its supporters did this to themselves. More than a half-century of occupation of Palestinian territories is a massive injustice that fair-minded people can no longer ignore, especially given America's financial support for Israel. Continued settlement expansion in the West Bank proves Israel has no interest in making peace on equitable terms. And endless occupation makes Israel's vaunted democracy less about Jewish self-determination than it is about ethnic subjugation.
Not only is Israel flagrantly violating international law by increasing settlements in the West Bank and Gaza, it is forcing Palestinians out of their ancestral homelands and forcing them to live in ever restricted circumstances, resulting in economic and social apartheid. While Israeli teenagers go to disco parties, the Palestinian teenagers are busy throwing rocks or spending time being tortured in jails. All the while the US media has become proportionately less and less critical of any sort of Israeli action against the Palestinians since 1967.
In effect Israel has become an apartheid state catering only to those of Jewish descent--as clearly seen in its promulgation of the 2018 law which promoted the development of Jewish communities, possibly aiding those who would seek to advance discriminatory land-allocation policies.
And it downgraded Arabic from an official language to one with a "special status." The legislation, a "basic law" - giving it the weight of a constitutional amendment - omitted any mention of democracy or the principle of equality, in what critics called a betrayal of Israel's 1948 Declaration of Independence, which ensured "complete equality of social and political rights" for "all its inhabitants" no matter their religion, race or sex. Right now the Palestinians are simply living in a rarefied ghetto--both intellectual and economic, in the sense that Israel is getting even Arab and African countries into its shadow. Tough times lie ahead for the Palestinians.

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