Stop Whitewashing Ilhan Omar’s Antisemitism
“Strong language,” Winston Churchill once said, “is often used by weak men and it is never used more strongly than on a weak case.” The Washington Post’s opinion pages are filled with plenty of strong language about Israel and antisemitism — and correspondingly few facts.
With growing frequency, The Washington Post has published op-eds that effectively whitewash or obfuscate on antisemitism when it emanates from the left. The recent controversy over Ilhan Omar’s most recent antisemitic tweet offers several examples.
On February 10, the Democratic freshman congresswoman tweeted “It’s all about the Benjamins” to explain why some of her fellow members of Congress were condemning a previous tweet of hers that accused Israel of “hypnotizing the world.” When asked to clarify whom she was talking about, Omar replied “AIPAC!” Omar was stating that money — Jewish money — was buying the votes and opinions of her fellow members of Congress.
Numerous pundits and politicians — Democrat and Republican alike — condemned Omar’s comments for their use of the antisemitic stereotype that Jews exert unseemly political influence. As The Washington Post itself reported: “House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the entire Democratic leadership on Monday condemned Rep. Ilhan Omar for suggesting that Israel’s allies in American politics were motivated by money rather than principle, an extraordinary rebuke of a House freshman in the vanguard of the party’s left flank.”
In a signed statement, Pelosi and other Democrats called Omar’s “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” deeply offensive, and insisted on an apology.
White supremacist and Holocaust denier David Duke defended Omar. So did op-eds published in The Washington Post.
Decrying those who said Omar’s tweet was antisemitic, Duke exhorted, “The most powerful political moneybags in American politics are Zionists.” Writing for The Washington Post’s Plum Line blog, Paul Waldman wrote that Omar “has to be careful about making claims that play into stereotypes, and the stereotype about Jews using money to control the world is one of the most pernicious there is.”
According to him, Omar wasn’t antisemitic, but just “criticizing the relationship between the United States and Israel,” albeit in “an unfortunate way.” Accordingly, Omar “just has to be more careful about how she presents that criticism.”
But the real problem, as the Post blogger sees it, is that “the whole episode reveals how insanely narrow the debate over the subject of Israel is in Washington.” The reason? AIPAC, which is really “the Likud lobby, representing the interests of the Israeli right wing.”
Another Post op-ed by Mairav Zonszein, a freelance journalist who has worked for Jewish Voice for Peace — an organization that has partnered with convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh and the ADL describes as a “radical anti-Israel activist group” — went even further.
Zonszein wrote that Omar’s tweet “didn’t strike me as antisemitic.”
“By now,” she claims, “many in Washington have come to embrace a consensus that being a good American means supporting Israel — regardless of its human rights violations or democratic record.”
Yet when it comes to American support for Israel, there is a consensus. And both Waldman and Zonszein are well outside of the mainstream. The truth is less conspiratorial than they, or Omar and David Duke, would have you believe.
Many members of Congress support Israel because the majority of Americans — those they are elected to represent — support Israel. Citing a Gallup poll, the left-wing Israeli paper Haaretz reported in March 2018 that 74 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of Israel. The reasons for that support are complex and multifaceted. Among other things, Americans see a fellow democracy, with many shared values and principles, as well as a military partner and key ally in the war against Islamist terrorism.
Further, AIPAC does not give money to lawmakers — a fact that Waldman admits but Zonszein obfuscates. Nor is AIPAC, which doesn’t take money from the Israeli government and is explicitly bipartisan, the “Likud Lobby.” Since its inception more than half a century ago, AIPAC has worked with Israeli governments of all political stripes. As Morris Amitay, a former executive director of AIPAC, told the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA): “We met with the Israeli left, center and right. We took no positions on Israeli internal politics and stuck to basics in making the case that a secure Israel is in the best interests of our country.”
Indeed, the Israel-related lobby that donated the most money to political candidates wasn’t AIPAC, but the far-left J Street, which is hypercritical of Israel.
And as the blogger Elder of Ziyon has documented, actual pro-Israel lobbying wouldn’t even crack the top 50 of lobbying causes. Numerous other countries, including South Korea, Japan, and “Arab countries” all have strong lobbying organizations that rival AIPAC’s influence.
The claim that debate about Israel is “silenced” or “narrow” is easily disproved by reading The New York Times, The Guardian, or any of the other media outlets that, like The Washington Post, frequently publish opinions and commentaries that are critical of Israel. Indeed, one would be hard-pressed to think of another similarly-sized nation that is so often the focal point of debate and discussion in the US and elsewhere.
Both Waldman and Zonszein are curiously charitable in interpreting whether Omar is antisemitic or not. On February 12 — the day before their commentaries were published — it was reported that Omar would be speaking at an Islamic Relief USA dinner on February 23 alongside Yousef Abdallah. As The Jerusalem Post reported, Adballah “has advocated for violence against Jews and expressed antisemitic sentiments on his social media pages.” Omar’s Congressional office denied that Abdallah was scheduled to be at the event, but flyers and the original event itinerary prove otherwise.
However, neither Waldman and Zonszein saw fit to mention Omar’s connection to Abdallah.
“The price of greatness,” Winston Churchill observed, “is responsibility.” If The Washington Post is going to continue to claim to be a great newspaper, it must act more responsibly and ensure that that the op-eds and blogs that it publishes prioritize facts over narrative.
Sean Durns is a Senior Research Analyst for the Washington D.C. office of CAMERA, the 65,000-member Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.