Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-D) highlighted the influence of the American Israeli Public Action Committee (AIPAC) on the United States Foreign Policy on Sunday. In doing so she, unfortunately, bought up anti-Semitic tropes that are harmful to the Jewish Community.
Omar later apologized and added that she, “reaffirm(s) the problematic role of lobbying in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”
Since her “unequivocal apology” for her hurtful comments, Omar has received criticism from many across the political spectrum, including President Donald Trump, who has called for her resignation, a move that fails to acknowledge his own use of anti-Semitic tropes in the past that far surpasses the congresswoman’s comments.
Omar’s failing to contextualize her comments within the wider history of Jewish stereotypes is troubling, but it does not negate the broader point she was making about the influence groups like AIPAC have on the decisions of our elected officials.
The whole controversy started after Omar responded to a tweet made by political commentator Glenn Greenwald that highlighted how “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib over their criticisms of Israel.” Omar responded with “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” implying that McCarthy’s decision was influenced by political donations.
She later clarified in another tweet that those political donations to people like McCarthy primarily came from AIPAC.
Her careless use of money obsession in regard to Israeli influence has unfortunate connotations that Omar may have been unaware of but should still be held accountable for.
However, a huge oversight of this story was what Omar was responding to, the idea that McCarthy would threaten punishment of elected officials for speaking out about human rights violations is against the very principle of the right to free speech.
The conduct of the Israeli government in terms of their occupation of the Palestinian people and their tendency to develop settlements on Palestinian land has long been criticized by the international community and even denounced by the United Nations security council.
It should be an American tradition to value debate on foreign policy on the world stage. Therefore, it is uniquely un-American for the Republican minority leader in the House to threaten punishment of two women of Congress who have a dissenting opinion on foreign affairs.
Their opinion primarily takes form in their comments that promote the work of the movement to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel due to their occupation of the Palestinian people.
Whether you support this boycott or not, as Americans, we should never consider censoring a reasonable political belief. The censorship actually goes beyond McCarthy’s comments. In fact, the Senate passed a bill last week that would encourage state governments to refrain from signing contracts with a business that support boycotts, divestments and sanctions on the state of Israel.
The bill that passed the Senate, as well as McCarthy’s comments, go against the very principle of the First Amendment. While it is of the utmost importance to refrain from anti-Semitic tropes, we should question the role that foreign lobbying can play in our politics. It is difficult to quantify the impact groups like AIPAC play in these decisions, but it is clear that the influence is both present and significant.
Jared Sellick is a junior majoring in political science.