Ilhan Omar Is Right—The Pro-Israel Lobby Has Too Much Influence in Washington

The vilification of the freshman Congresswoman by the political class in the U.S. is merely an attempt to conceal uncomfortable truths. If the U.S. is serious about rooting out foreign influence over its government, it must question the role of AIPAC and its allies.
Tom Pollitt
Tom Pollitt holds an Undergraduate MA in Philosophy from The University of St Andrews and Aarhus Universitet, a Graduate Diploma in Law from BPP University and is currently studying towards and LLM in International Law at SOAS, University of London. Tom lived in Morocco for a year and a half between 2014 and 2015 where he worked for the U.S.G affiliated language institute, AmidEast, and worked as a director for fair-trade business Yamas, of which he is a cofounder.
Ilhan Omar Is Right—The Pro-Israel Lobby Has Too Much Influence in Washington

Imagine if, in the build up to elections in his own country, Vladimir Putin had spoken directly to the U.S. Congress, against the wishes of President Trump.

Imagine if, in the build up to elections in his own country, Vladimir Putin had spoken directly to the U.S. Congress, against the wishes of President Trump. Picture the scene of Putin using his appearance before Congress to attack U.S. policy in a speech frequently interrupted by standing ovations. In the light of such an event, the Mueller investigation into Russian influence in Washington would be unnecessary⏤Putin’s control over the U.S. government would speak for itself.

Except, of course, Vladimir Putin never spoke to Congress in defiance of Donald Trump; it was Benjamin Netanyahu who did this during the Presidency of Barack Obama.

Recall that in Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on March 3, 2015, he excoriated the deal that the democratically elected Obama administration had negotiated with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons program. Netanyahu called the agreement “a very bad deal” and said that “we are better off without it.” It is inconceivable that the head of any other foreign state could act as Prime Minister Netanyahu did in 2015. Such behavior shows that Netanyahu’s demand for U.S. support has reached a level of presumption bordering on contempt.

Netanyahu did not meet with Obama when he came to Washington, regarding Obama as insufficiently supportive of his domestic political aims, despite the striking fact that the Obama administration had vetoed United Nations General Assembly resolution 67/19, which called for the implementation of official U.S. policy.

That U.S.-vetoed resolution, among other things, stressed “the need for the withdrawal of Israel from the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967” and an end to the expansion of Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, the illegality of which is uncontroversial. In other words, Obama continued the longstanding U.S. tradition of inuring Israel against its obligations under international law. The apparent problem in Netanyahu’s mind was that Obama did not do this with sufficient enthusiasm.

This one example among many demonstrates Israel’s immense influence over U.S. policy.

This one example among many demonstrates Israel’s immense influence over U.S. policy. To deny this is to feign ignorance of one of the most elementary truths in global politics. If one imagines Vladimir Putin appearing in front of the U.S. Congress, against the wishes of President Trump, to decry, say, the amassing of NATO forces at the Russian border, the staggering arrogance of Netanyahu comes into plain view.

This stunning inconsistency between the discussion of Israel and that of all other nations has again been thrown into the limelight by Ilhan Omar. The freshman Congresswoman caused apparent outrage in February when she suggested that Israel has undue influence on U.S. policy. Omar’s assertion came as part of her response to the House Minority Leader’s pledge to take action against Omar and her fellow Muslim Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for indulging in the use of anti-Semitic tropes, due to their positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict.

Some regard the crackdown on opponents of the Israeli occupation as sinister and even see parallels with McCarthyism. Indeed, in a fitting coincidence, the House Minority Leader is named Kevin McCarthy. Incidentally, if Congress is interested in condemning those who deal in “anti-Semitic tropes,” they should look no further than McCarthy himself, who has used twitter to attack three Jewish democratic donors, saying: “we can not allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election.”

Mercifully, it is possible to avoid the conversation about “tropes” and “narratives” in favor of the old-fashioned concept of facts. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has long been heavily involved in U.S. politics, donating millions of dollars each election cycle and funding much criticised “fact finding” trips to Israel for U.S. journalists and officials.

Foreign lobbyists are of course not the only reason for the U.S.’ support of Israel. One essential factor is Christian Zionism, through which American evangelicalism supports Israel’s expansion for its own fundamentalist reasons. However, as Tel Aviv-based Israeli journalist Gideon Levy has said: “The Israel lobby [is] far too strong and too aggressive. It is not good for the Jewish community; it is not good for Israel.”

Defending Omar in Haaretz on March 7, Levy wrote: “Due to the Israel lobby, the U.S. does not know the truth about what is happening here. Congress members, senators and shapers of public opinion who are flown here ad nauseam see only Israeli victimhood and Palestinian terror, which apparently emerged out of nowhere.” Other Pro-Israel lobbyists also play a role. For instance, Casino proprietor Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam contributed $55 million in 2018 to help maintain Republican control of Congress in the midterm elections.

In return, the U.S. has stood against almost the entire international community in its defense of Israeli policies, such the siege of Gaza and the building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, blocking and vetoing most attempts to hold Israel to account at the UN. There are only marginal exceptions to this. One year after Netanyahu’s speech to Congress, the Obama administration broke from the trend and abstained from voting on UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which called for an end to Israeli settlement expansion. Yet, under the historical standards of the U.S.-Israel relationship, the Obama administration’s refusal to outright oppose the UN’s feeble effort to apply international law to Israel was regarded as an act of hostility.

Anyone with a fleeting interest in international affairs is aware of the U.S.’ overwhelming support for Israel and the huge impact lobbying groups have on the American legislative process. It is fair game to inquire critically into the motives of those who deny this, and it is imperative, to tell the truth.  

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Inside Arabia.