Within the last week, Minnesota’s freshman member of the House of Representatives, Ilhan Omar, has been much in the news, and much debated, for her tweet that pro-Israel supporters are paying American politicians to be pro-Israel. After Democratic Party leadership in the House condemned her tweet as anti-Semitic, referring to its “use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” as “deeply offensive,” and called on her to “immediately apologize for these hurtful comments” (see: https://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/21119/), Representative Omar issued an apology – sort of.
Other commentators have evaluated, pro and con, the sincerity of Ms. Omar’s apology, whether her original comments were just a mistake of an experienced freshman member of Congress or reflected a more deep-seated and firmly held prejudice in light of her earlier also-apologized-for posting about how Israel had “hypnotized” the world, but there is an additional perspective to be considered.
For even as she said that she “unequivocally” apologized and never meant to offend Jewish Americans, she equivocated. The second paragraph of her apology says:
At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists 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.
Note the list of lobbyists – all entities that are anathemas to her progressive base. She did not mention, for example, Moveon.org or J Street, progressive organizations that endorse and donate to candidates through their political action committees – unlike AIPAC which does neither of these things, although it encourages its members to be politically active as individuals by supporting candidates of their own choice. So, it seems that only a select few lobbyists are “problematic” for Representative Omar.
And that is the additional concern about Ms. Omar. Indeed, as reported by several outlets, including Haaretz – hardly a right-leaning publication, Ms. Omar is using the notoriety she gained in this episode for fundraising. https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/.premium-despite-apology-for-aipac-tweet-ilhan-omar-uses-controversy-for-fundraising-1.6937472. She is actually seeking to capitalize on her anti-Semitic comments.
Moreover, despite her claimed aversion to lobbyists in politics, she was perfectly fine with accepting contributions from lobbyists – as long as they were, to her, the right kind of lobbyists. Her campaign raised slightly more than $1 million, and included donations from Emily’s List, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Moveon.org, and, ironically in light of the current discussion, End Citizens United. Opensecrets.org reports that more than half of the contributions to her campaign were by “large individual contributors.” https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/summary?cid=N00043581&newmem=Y.
Somehow none of these organizations made it into the list of problematic lobbyists appended to her apology.
To be clear, I have no issue with her accepting contributions from these sources. Unlike one of her contributors, I support the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United – and believe that the answer to speech with which one disagrees is more speech, and that stifling speech (if it counts as “speech” – for the moment we’ll save for another day the controversy over anti-BDS legislation and the applicability of the First Amendment) is almost always a bad idea. The Constitution guarantees the right to petition government, so I severely disagree with Representative Omar’s criticism of the role of lobbyists, even as she tries unsuccessfully to distance herself from her own comments that the only reason members of Congress are pro-Israel is that they are paid to be so.
Further, I am more than sensitive to the modern realities of running for office, especially for members of the House. With only a two-year term, and with campaigns becoming ever more expensive , each member must begin fundraising almost the day after their successful election in light of the extremely short election cycle. So, I have no problem with Representative Omar, or any other Congressional candidate, reaching out to those whom she believes agree with her principles (even as I disagree with many of them) to support her election or re-election. That is the way of politics, and it is not going to change anytime soon; I’ve not even heard good proposals of how to change it.
No, the issue I have is with her evident hypocrisy. Even leaving aside that her comment was far more than merely an anti-Semitic “trope,” the additional problem is that she criticizes lobbyists with one hand while raking in lobbyist money with the other. One might say that she is simply playing the rules of the game as it currently exists, but she was the one who raised the issue of campaign contributions, unsolicited, at the end of her apology statement.
Her own internal inconsistency calls into considerable doubt the sincerity of her apology overall.