Newly-elected Ilhan Omar isn’t afraid to roll up her sleeves and smack issues in the face, stirring up a hornet’s nest of angry reaction from Republicans and Democrats alike. The Minnesota Congresswoman, one of two Muslim women now in the US House of Representatives, stepped into controversy this week when she responded to a tweet by journalist Glenn Greenwald.
The co-founder of the online newspaper The Intercept is perhaps best known for his writings on Edward Snowden, the former CIA whistle blower. Greenwald criticised California’s Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy who demanded that his colleagues censor Omar and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for their powerful criticism of Israel which, lest we forget, is a foreign country.
“GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel,” wrote Greenwald. “It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.”
That prompted Omar to respond, also on Twitter: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby” was a reference to the money that Israel, its lobby and its supporters pour into the political coffers of elected officials like McCarthy. “Benjamin” is slang for a $100 bill, which has a picture of Benjamin Franklin on it.
Immediately, McCarthy and other blindly pro-Israel shills began denouncing Omar, claiming that any reference to “Jews” and “money” is anti-Semitic. To make it worse, the biased mainstream US news media, including CNN and the Washington Post, reported the story from the negative aspect of anti-Semitism rather than exploring the reality of how much pro-Israel money backs many leading Congressmen and women, and Senators.
According to the Open Secrets website which monitors campaign contributions in the US, last year alone McCarthy received $33,200 in pro-Israel political donations. Such donations were topped by anti-Arab Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who received $226,690 from supporters of Israel. In 2016, McCarthy received $58,250 from pro-Israel groups, while the largest donation that year went to Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois who received $289,729.
McCarthy earns his keep as a lapdog for Israel, receiving $46,275 in 2014, $22,750 in 2012 and $14,150 in 2010. He got nothing in 2008, because that was his first term and the pro-Israel lobbyists don’t like to hand out big cash donations without knowing up front that an American politician is willing to compromise their ethics, undermine the rule of law and turn their backs on human rights to defend a foreign country like Israel. All told, McCarthy has received $175,625 from pro-Israel lobbyists, which is a lot of Benjamins.Israel’s lobbyists and funders dole out millions each year to help US politicians stay in office, as long as they toe the line: don’t criticise Israel; oppose BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions); turn a blind eye to Israel’s brutal oppression of Palestinian civilians; and ignore Israel’s theft of Christian and Muslim lands to build Jew-only settlements.
For $175,625, McCarthy does pretty well, closing his eyes to every principle. He is a Republican. He may disagree with Democrats who oppose President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the Mexican border, but he has no problem at all joining Democrats in sending about America sending Israel $4 billion of US taxpayers’ money every year to help it cover the costs of its own massive wall that imprisons Palestinians and steals even more Palestinian land and resources, especially water.
Criticising elected officials for taking money from individuals to do the bidding of a foreign country is not “anti-Semitism” at all. However, when the pro-Israel lobbyists can’t respond to the facts and argue their case rationally and honestly, they throw mud at the critics to demonise them. In doing so, they also dilute the very real threat of anti-Semitism, which is totally unacceptable racism.
Omar’s comment speaks to a fundamental truth about American politicians. Israel and its supporters have the US Congress and Senate in a punishing political headlock. If a politician doesn’t do their bidding, they are targeted, and instead of donating money to his or her campaign, they give it to rivals and opponents. When anyone doles out several million dollars a year in “Benjamins” to buy influence and support, you’re going to have a lot of lapdogs in the US government doing exactly what you want.
The other truth is that it isn’t just Trump and the Republicans who give Israel cover to continue to commit its human rights abuses, land theft and war crimes. Many Democrats do too. Politicians like Hillary Clinton smile to your face urging peace, but engage in policies that undermine Palestinian rights because they don’t want to risk their careers or their share of “Benjamins”.
Where Omar may be wrong, though, is that it isn’t “all” about the Benjamins; it’s about a lot more. For example, while Israel’s government has a well-funded lobbying strategy to keep its political friends in line, the Arabs, quite literally, do nothing of the kind. That’s ironic, given that the Arab world has so much wealth, so often wasted on things like million-dollar yachts, chateaus on the French Riviera, diamond-encrusted sports cars, gambling and other outlandish luxuries.
The Arab world doesn’t have a lobby, and nor does the Arab American community, although groups here and there manage to put together a paltry sum each year to contribute to those few politicians offended by Israel’s human rights abuses, war crimes and crimes against humanity. You know, those things that democratic politicians are supposed to be concerned about.
What’s even more ironic — or maybe it is sad and depressing — is that while Israel spends millions each year on powerful professional communications’ strategies to spin Israel’s human rights violations into things like “defending itself against terrorists” and “self-defence”, there too, the Arabs spend nothing. The Arab world has no PR strategy; indeed, it has no PR worth talking about. Most Arabs probably don’t even know how to write a press release that might be of interest to the average American let alone a member of the US Congress or Senate, even though they have right on their side: justice; human rights; international law; the Fourth Geneva Convention; and the moral high ground. And yet they do nothing with any of it.
The Arabs surrender the political field to Israel, like a football team that loses by simply not competing and thus forfeiting the game. We — Arab states and Arab American citizens alike — need to engage in a strategic defence that uses our own Benjamins. To use the football analogy once more, only then might we start to see a level playing field.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.