Ilhan Omar Has a Point About AIPAC

It’s long past time that we moved towards the position that it’s okay to criticize the government of Israel. You can totally support the right of Israel to exist, as I do, and yet criticize a far-right government that’s used racism and has perhaps engaged in war crimes to maintain its position. Nor should we hesitate to criticize its leader, an individual unafraid to use racism to remain in power, nor it seems is he afraid to use allegedly corrupt actions to maintain that position either.

After all, we’re doing it in America about our leader right now.

It should not be something we dither about. Or worry about being called anti-Semitic by far-right individuals who want no criticism of the Israeli government. If this was any other country in the world, criticizing that government would not be seen as a hate crime.

Yes, we should also criticize the actions of corrupt and cruel organizations like Hamas, who has ruled the Gaza Strip with a relentless and brutal thirst for power of its own. Hamas hurts more than helps the Palestinian people. Its actions against the people of Israel also deserve to be condemned.

But it takes two to tango. And many the actions of the Netanyahu government and the Israeli Defense Forces are also relentless and cruel and if they are not war crimes they are very close to being so.

Nor should criticism of the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) be off limits either. Which is why Democratic representative Ilhan Omar has a point. AIPAC is one of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington along with the NRA and the energy lobby. To deny this is to stick your head in the sand and ignore reality. And it should be noted that Ilhan Omar is not the first person to make this point. The Mearsheimer and Walt report of 2007 presented a strong case of how individuals and organizations work very hard to push US policy in the direction of Israel.

But I would argue that one step farther. I don’t think AIPAC pushes American policy towards “Israel” in a broad sense. I believe they want to push US policy in the direction of a certain kind of Israel, basically one run by a far-right Israeli government. I don’t think AIPAC has much interest in a more liberal form of government in Israel, as it would undermine many of the views AIPAC has promoted or the years. One only has to read Thomas Friedman’s piece in the New York Times this week, critical of both Omar and AIPAC, that outlines many of the actions taken by AIPAC that sought to undermine an American administration that it saw as “unfavorable” toward a far-right Israeli government.

Representative Omar and I may have different reasons for criticizing AIPAC and the actions of the Israeli government and perhaps she needs to learn to hone her criticism so that she does not open herself up so easily to charges of anti-Semitism but I am glad she has moved us in a more open direction. Criticizing the government of Israel or an American lobby group that promotes a far-right agenda does not mean that you “hate Jews.” In fact, one of the most encouraging signs that things are changing was the number of American Jews who actually defended Omar’s right to criticize AIPAC and pointed out how the far-right tries to smear anyone who makes the kind of comments that she did.

The people of Israel deserve far better than the government they have now which has only served to isolate them from the world and undermine their image as one of the great democracies. Open and honest criticism of a far-right Israeli government and of an American lobby group that support it is a step in the right direction.

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