When push came to shove this week in the U.S. House of Representatives, even Ilhan Omar pushed back against Ilhan Omar.
She is the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota who started the latest uproar over anti-Semitism. She did it with some snide remarks about Jews and the power of money. She did it by insinuating that American Jews have divided loyalty between Israel and the United States.
And then, she did it by feigning innocence that any of her remarks might have been hurtful or intolerant – not to mention, politically idiotic.
By week’s end, we had the House of Representatives voting, 407 to 23, to condemn “hateful expressions of intolerance,” declaring they have “no place in American political discourse.” Only a few Republicans voted no. Every Democrat, including Omar, voted yes.
Surely reasonable people, Democrat or Republican, Jewish or otherwise, can make the distinction that Omar has failed to make, which has set off this uneasy moment in American discourse.
It is perfectly all right to criticize Israel. In fact, millions of Jews do it all the time, in public and in private, especially in the era of Benjamin Netanyahu.
But it’s not all right to pull out old, fraudulent anti-Jewish stereotypes to make the case against that nation’s political policies.
As Bret Stephens wrote in the New York Times this week, “Claims that Israel ‘hypnotizes’ the world, or that it uses money to bend others to its will, or that its American supporters ‘push for allegiance to a foreign country,’ repackage falsehoods commonly used against Jews for centuries.
“People can debate the case for Israel on the merits, but those who support the state should not have to face allegations that their sympathies have been purchased, or their brains hijacked, or their loyalties divided.”
At least for the moment, the uproar over Omar’s remarks has been muted. Maybe we can push aside her snide remark about “the Benjamins, baby” — $100 bills – and her inferences of powerful Israeli lobbyists which sound like echoes of Patrick Buchanan when he called Congress “Israeli-occupied” territory and called Israeli influence the “amen corner” of Congress.
Just for the record, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, all pro-Israel lobbying groups – combined – had operating budgets last year of about $5 million, of which AIPAC accounted for about $3.5 million.
These figures, first reported in Tablet Magazine, rank Israeli lobbying the 34th largest-giving interest group to members of Congress.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spread nearly $95 million around last year. They were No. 1. Then came the National Association of Realtors, at $72 million. The pharmacy lobbyists spent $28 million, the American Medical Association $24 million. Native-American casinos spent $22 million.
Hell, Israel was far out-spent by Blue Cross/Blue Shield, AT&T, Boeing, Comcast, Amazon, Facebook, Exxon Mobil, Anhheuser-Busch and Philip Morris.
Get the point? An entire nation gets vastly outspent by private companies. You can hustle cigarettes and beer, and nobody says you’re contributing to cancer and alcoholism, but spend a fraction of those companies in support of an entire nation, and you’re described as all-powerful, manipulative, and maybe even traitorous.
And then somebody drags out some old anti-Jew lies just to poison the waters some more. That’s the part that’s intolerable.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books. His most recent, “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age,” was reissued in paperback by the Johns Hopkins University Press.