We need to thank Ilhan Omar for representing ALL of us

US Representative Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) (photo: Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty Images)
The committee’s statement in support of Ilhan Omar.

By The Bishop’s Committee for Justice and Peace in the Holy Land | Episcopal Diocese of Olympia | Feb 20, 2019

Every American citizen needs to understand and support the First Amendment. If we don’t, we are in danger of losing our basic rights . . . .

Ilhan Omar, Minnesota’s new US congressional representative, has been savaged for speaking the truth, but she is right about the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on the politics and policies of the United States. There is no question about the growing impact of money and influence by special interest groups in this country. Unfortunately, AIPAC has been able to largely stay under the radar. Rep. Omar has put it in the spotlight.

Anyone who criticizes Israel is increasingly in danger of being branded as “anti-Semitic.” While no one can deny the existence of prejudice or discrimination against Jews, it is not “anti-Semitic” to question or criticize Israel’s unjust policies and practices with regard to the Palestinian people. This term is increasingly being used as a canard to stifle opposition to Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), the most promising non-violent means of protesting unjust treatment of the Palestinians. AIPAC is encouraging states to legally sanction any contractor who has openly supported BDS. Rep. Omar has had the courage to endorse BDS and point to the influence of the powerful Israeli lobby.

The stated purpose of AIPAC is to “empower pro-Israel activists across all ages, religions, and races to be politically engaged and build relationships with members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and promote the US-Israel relationship.” The AIPAC website lays out a legislative agenda that includes “Support Assistance for Israel and Foreign Aid,” such as Senate Bill 1, approved Feb 5. The bill provides for security and military aid to Israel amounting to $38 billion spread over 10 years (nearly $10.5 million per day).

Senate Bill 1 further extends loan guarantees, permits transfer of guided missiles from US reserves and makes it legal for states to refuse to do business with individuals or organizations that support BDS, thereby denying the constitutional right of free speech. AIPAC produces publications, fact sheets and news feeds for Congress and the press, encourages independent fundraising activities and maintains a presence on US campuses. Opposition is discouraged — members of the press who wish to attend the upcoming 2019 AIPAC policy convention must be accredited in order to cover the event.

In March 2018, the Washington Post reported that since the 1970’s, AIPAC has informally directed substantial contributions to political candidates and lobbyists. This February, The Guardian cited a source in which AIPAC officials boast about their success in obtaining the $38 billion appropriation. The American Israel Education Foundation, the non-profit arm of AIPAC, continues the long-standing practice of providing all-expense paid trips to Israel for incoming congressmen. These cost an estimated $10,000 each, according to If Americans Knew.

Of course, all these activities cost money. Lots of it. Representative Omar is right about the “Benjamins,” — a term referring to the face of Benjamin Franklin on the US one-hundred-dollar bill, not an anti-Semitic slur. She, and we, cannot duck and run for cover for fear of being discredited when we speak the truth about Israel. Every American citizen needs to understand and support the First Amendment. If we don’t, we are in danger of losing our basic rights to freedom of speech and the press, as well as the right to petition the government for redress of grievances. We need to thank Ilhan Omar for representing all of us.