Guardian rushes to the defence of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar

It's hard not to see troubling parallels between Jeremy Corbyn's loyal band of anti-Semites and antisemitism deniers and the Guardian contributor's rush to defend Ilhan Omar against charges of antisemitism whilst questioning the motives of her accusers. 

Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar apologised on Monday for tweets about the Israel lobby after being denounced by commentators and politicians from across the political spectrum – including from her own party leaders – for engaging in “antisemitic tropes.”  In her tweet, Omar, a Somalian refugee who just became one of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, suggested the only reason the US supports Israel is because AIPAC buys politicians’ support.  In addition to evoking the antisemitic calumny that Jews control Washington, it was quickly pointed out that Omar was wrong on the facts, as AIPAC does not donate directly to political candidates.

As most reports on the row pointed out, this is the second tweet she recently apologised for.  In January, the freshman lawmaker first defended, but then expressed regret for, a tweet during Israel’s 2012 war with Hamas that complained “Israel has hypnotized the world” and asked that “Allah awaken the people and help them see [their] evil doings”.  As NY Times columnist Barri Weiss noted, “the conspiracy theory of the Jew as the hypnotic conspirator, the duplicitous manipulator, the sinister puppeteer is one with ancient roots and a bloody history”.

However, it was her most recent tweet about AIPAC buying US support for Israel that was the subject of a Guardian op-ed published yesterday written by Alex Kotch, investigative reporter at a site called Sludge, who offered a full-out defence of Omar:

Kotch’s duplicitous rhetoric begins in the opening paragraph and is straight out of the Guardian playbook, arguing that Omar “bravely criticizes the Israeli government”. However, such vilification of Israel not only doesn’t require “bravery”, but is in fact consistently amplified and promoted by the most powerful and influential international news publications, including the NY Times.  (In the UK, of course, spending your entire career demonising Israel and supporting anti-Semites isn’t even a barrier to becoming Opposition leader.)  Further undermining the claim that it takes courage to criticise Israel, in January, Omar, a BDS supporter who at the time was still defending her ‘Israel hypnotizes the world’ tweet, was appointed by House leaders to the powerful Foreign Affairs Committee – an assignment that wasn’t revoked, even after the latest antisemitism row.

Kotch then commends Omar for endorsing BDS, which he falsely characterises a “movement to pressure Israel to change course on Palestine”, when, in fact, BDS leaders openly declare their opposition to the continued existence to a Jewish state within any borders.  He also complains that “opponents have dishonestly cast BDS as antisemitic”, whilst ignoring a recent study by the Jewish Policy Research Institute (JPR) and CST showing  “a strong connection between extreme hostility towards Israel”, such as support for BDS, “and traditional forms of antisemitism”. Whilst the question of whether BDS is inherently antisemitic is another matter, the study clearly shows that supporters of BDS are far more likely to also hold classic antisemitic views than those who don’t support BDS.  

Kotch further alleges that recent anti-BDS laws passed by over half the states “clearly trample on the constitutional right to free speech and expression”, when in fact a federal court in Arkansas recently upheld the constitutionality of their state’s anti-BDS law, and the US Supreme Court has yet to rule on the issue.

Pivoting to Omar’s tweet, Kotch acknowledges that “evil people have used the hateful conspiracy theory that Jews use their money to secretly control politicians and the media to commit atrocities against Jewish people for many centuries”, but then offers a defence of her specific comments about AIPAC:

But in doing so, it’s incredibly important to be able to distinguish between real antisemitism and basic political facts. We need to be able to examine the money and influence in politics that every special-interest group, including pro-Israel lobbying groups such as Aipac, wields. Often, because of their ability to pay for costly lobbyists and fund political campaigns, these special interests drown out the voices of everyday Americans. As a result, members of Congress are way out of touch with the views of their own constituents.

However, it’s Kotch who is “way out of touch” with the views of Americans.  Based on polling by Gallup since 1967, “everyday Americans” have, by large margins, consistently expressed support Israel.

Such polling suggests that whatever ‘power’ AIPAC does have is in large measure a reflection of the general popularity of Israel’s cause throughout the country.  Further, as blogger Elder of Ziyon pointed out, “in terms of lobbying causes to Congress, the pro-Israel lobby comes in at number 50, with $15 million spent in 2018, a tiny percentage of what the top lobby spent – $400 million from the securities and investment industry”. And, even the 50 ranking is deceptive, because the $15 million reportedly includes money spent by the far-left group J Street.

Regarding J Street, later in the op-ed, Kotch expresses his agreement with the group’s recent statement demanding that “elected officials should…refrain from labeling all criticism of Israeli actions or policies as ‘antisemitic” in an “effort to silence legitimate discussion and debate”.  First, this is a classic straw man argument, as next to nobody labels simple criticism of Israel as antisemitic. It’s also an ad hominem attack on Jews which, instead of engaging in an argument, imputes bad faith to those who level such accusations.  As the CST’s Dave Rich argued, questioning Jewish motives over antisemitism claims is itself consistent with the antisemitic idea which instinctively presumes that “whatever Jews say and do can’t be taken at face value”, but must be inspired by a “devious, deceitful and manipulative” motive or agenda that needs to be uncovered.  

Though Rich’s argument was in the context of such lines of attack against Jews who complain of antisemitism within the British Labour Party, it’s hard not to see troubling parallels between Jeremy Corbyn’s loyal band of antisemitism deniers and Kotch’s rush to defend Omar against charges of antisemitism whilst questioning the motives of her accusers. 

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