Ilhan Omar Shouldn’t Apologize. Her Critics Should.
This weekend, the internet combusted into an uproar after Representative Ilhan Omar tweeted “It’s All About The Benjamins Baby” with regards to American elected officials standing up for Israel. When Forward op-ed editor Batya Ungar-Sargon asked Omar who the money came from, Omar answered AIPAC.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
Ungar-Sargon deemed this “anti-Semitic,” and Omar was rebuked by her fellow Democratic congresspeople, as well as the President, himself a gleeful peddler of anti-Semitic content. Omar apologized.
But it is Omar who is owed an apology – by Ungar-Sargon.
Omar said nothing wrong. AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is one of the most effective lobbying organizations in Washington, whose mission according to its website is to “strengthen, protect, and promote the US-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of the United States and Israel.”
AIPAC does not give campaign contributions itself, and does not rate or endorse candidates directly, but it generates contributions through a campaign network of pro-Israel political action committees under AIPAC’s umbrella which do directly endorse candidates. In addition, AIPAC’s educational subsidiary, the American Israel Education Foundation (AEIF), sponsors annual trips for Congressional Representatives to Israel which often cost up to $10,000, funded directly from donations made to AIPAC.
Instead of recognizing that AIPAC does use money to convince U.S. elected officials to be pro-Israel – just as Omar said – Ungar-Sargon conflated AIPAC, Israel, and all Jews and escalated the situation, resulting finally in known racists Donald Trump and Mike Pence calling for Omar’s resignation.
While Rep. Omar’s tweets were perhaps unfortunate in that it takes more than a catchy rap hook and a five-letter tweet to explain how AIPAC, its affiliates, and its subsidiaries influence policy in Washington, it was all the more unfortunate of the Forward editor to muddle the conversation further by manufacturing outrage rather than pushing for clarity.
Ungar-Sargon owes Omar an apology. She opted to attack Omar for a tweet responding to ongoing harassment from Republican lawmaker House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, another villain who’s trafficked in anti-Semitic tripes. By opting to climb onto the bandwagon of an ongoing, active smear campaign against Omar, Ungar-Sargon chose to support, advance, participate in, and amplify the smear campaign against Omar.
It is she who should apologize.
I hope that this Friday when Israel inevitably shoots more protesters at the Gaza separation fence, the editors of the Forward will spearhead as much outrage against it as they did against a Congressional Representative tweeting the word “AIPAC!”
Ilana Cruger-Zaken is a writer and MA student at The New School in New York City.