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Congresswoman Ilhan Omar Subject to Controversy After Calling Out Pro-Israel Lobby Group

Streisand Neto, MSc International Politics

Ilhan Omar, a congresswoman from Minnesota, caused controversy after sharing her views American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Twitter. She stated “It’s all about the Benjamins baby”, in reference to $100 bills and the money that lobbies often bring in for supportive candidates. Her tweet caused a massive stir amongst both Democrats and Republicans. It has also received support and generated a debate on a topic that reveals the influence of the powerful lobby group in US politics.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby”,

AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobbying group which has strong ties with the US government as a result of huge yearly donations. In addition to giving money, they hold extravagant conventions, bringing in notable faces such as former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton in order to discuss US-Israel cooperation. At the 2016 convention, Hillary Clinton emphasised the “unshakable commitment to our alliance and to Israel’s future”. Given the fact that America and Israel possess strong ties in a military and political sense, it comes as no surprise that Clinton emphasised the importance of maintaining the bond between both countries.

In response to her tweet, representatives from both parties have condemned Ilhan Omar. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy asserted her remark was anti-Semitic. According to Alex Kotch, a writer for The Guardian, “anti-Semitic incidents have risen drastically in the US”. Additionally, two Jewish Democratic House Members, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Elaine Luria of Virginia, organised a petition to notify the House Democratic leaders of their denunciation of hateful remarks against Jewish people. Whilst Glenn Greenwald, a prominent lawyer and journalist, criticised the swift condemnation and suggested the implications of infringing upon the “free speech rights of Americans”.

Greenwald, in discussion with Amy Goodman on the TV show Democracy Now, considered Omar’s remarks as “uncontroversial”, arguing that Omar’s comment details the truth about AIPAC’s financial capability in murky US politics. Lawyer and activist Ady Barkan also addressed the issue in his article ‘What Ilhan Omar said about AIPAC was right’. He alludes to his previous ties with AIPAC and highlights the centrality of money in supporting individual members of both parties.

It is worth noting that Ilhan Omar endorses the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS, the global pressure group, write on their website that their cause is to challenge “international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism”. Omar has criticised Israel previously, in 2012 tweeting, “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them”, signifying her disapproval towards the Israeli state.

Earlier this month, Omar publicly apologized via her Twitter account by stating that her “intention is never to offend [her] constituents of Jewish Americans”, although the second paragraph of her statement reaffirms the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics”.

In spite of the backlash she has received, Ilhan Omar told CNN that she finds it “exciting” to spark discussion on an important matter.

Photo Caption: Ilhan Omar (Credits: Flickr)

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