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Congress, Israel and the Politics of “Righteous Indignation”

It is a rare day that some member of Congress doesn’t expose him or herself as a hypocrite of the first order. This week, we have seen this done in spades.

On February 10, Representative Ilhan Omar (D- MN) said that U.S. Congressional support for Israel is “…all about the Benjamins…”, a reference to the U.S. denomination, $100.00 bills, that sport a picture of Benjamin Franklin. One would think that stating the obvious would not be met with such umbrage.

But no! Democratic leadership (how’s that for an oxymoron?) issued a statement condemning Omar’s “…use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters…’, and declaring her words ‘deeply offensive’.

Really? Was this, indeed, an ‘anti-Semitic trope’? Was it a ‘prejudicial accusation’? This writer, as is his custom, will attempt to make some sense of all this, a challenging undertaking, undeniably. We will do so first by looking at some of the members of Congress who voiced their objection.

+ Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who issued the statement condemning Omar’s remarks, has benefited from pro-Israel campaign contributions to the tune of $514,449.00.

+ Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) issued a concise statement to Omar: ‘STOP IT!”. Ms. Schakowsky has received $552,624.00 in campaign contributions from pro-Israel lobbies during her career.

+ Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) praised Pelosi’s condemnation of Omar’s statement. His career take from pro-Israel lobbies: $804,215.00.

+ House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who just last year suggested that wealthy Jews were trying to buy the mid-term elections, vowed that Republicans would “… take action this week to ensure the House speaks out against this hatred.” The hypocrisy of that statement, based on his own words of just a few months ago, is obvious. During his Congressional career, he has received $174,625.00 in contributions from pro-Israel groups.

These are just four examples; four members of Congress, whose total cash haul from pro-Israel lobbies equals $2,045,913.00, condemning Omar’s words. That is a significant number of ‘Benjamins’.

We will now move onto the pro-Israel attempt to conflate criticism of the apartheid state of Israel with anti-Semitism.

Currently, the Yellow-Vest protests continue in France. If one condemns the French austerity measures that have triggered them, and the brutal force that the French government is using to oppress those protests, does that mean that one hates all things French? Does it suggest that the person condemning these actions attributes repression and brutality to being inherent in the French persona? Does it suggest that, if one has French neighbors, one will take frozen French fries and fling them into one’s neighbor’s yard, all the while chanting ‘go home French person’?

No; it means that one disagrees with the policies of the French government. That’s it.

Let us look beyond all this, and review the reasons that so many august politicians in the U.S. proclaim their support of the apartheid, Zionist regime of Israel: shared values.

In Israel, there are separate laws for Israelis and everyone else. A crime committed by an Arab will received a far harsher sentence than the same crime committed by an Israeli. One supposes that is, indeed, a shared value, since in the U.S., crimes committed by people of color generally receive far harsher penalties than those committed by whites.

Throughout the illegally occupied West Bank, Israel has housed over 500,000 settlers, all of them living there in violation of international law. The U.S. has violated international law countless times, including by withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). So again, disdain for the rule of law is a value shared by the U.S. and Israel.

Israel periodically bombs the Gaza Strip, an action that is routinely condemned by the United Nations. The U.S. bombs multiple countries on a nearly-constant basis. We see yet another commonality between the two nations.

During the 2014 Israeli massacre of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Israel bombed homes, houses of worship, hospitals, U.N. refugee centers and press offices. The U.S. said that Israel probably shouldn’t have bombed those refugee centers. Not what one would call an effective criticism for such barbaric actions.

While Israel was busy with active genocide in Gaza (in addition to its ongoing genocidal practices), some of its soldiers targeted four young Palestinian boys playing on a beach. Apparently sensing mortal danger from unarmed 10-year-olds kicking around a soccer ball, the soldiers shot and killed them. More recently, the U.S.’s other great ally in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, dropped a U.S.-made bomb on a school bus carrying 40 boys ranging in age from 8 – 12. The U.S. and Israel apparently hold the slaughter of innocent children as a ‘shared value’.

But what is any of this? U.S. spokespeople are forever asserting that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and since these same people also proclaim that the U.S. is a model democracy, that, they say, is the true shared value.

One must point out that democracy means more than allowing many citizens to vote. Yes, both Israel and the U.S. have periodic elections, but in both countries, voter suppression is actively practiced, effectively ensuring that potential voters who actually want change are ignored. And doesn’t democracy also include equal rights under the law? Israel had codified separate rights, and the U.S. Constitution, that document so revered by so many members of Congress, provided ‘equal’ rights for wealthy, white, landowning males; all other need not apply. There have been some changes in 200 years, but equality is still a dream for women, people of color, the poor, gays, etc.

Representative Omar, bowing to the weight of pressure from so many Israeli representatives in Congress, apologized for offending any Jewish people. She need not have done so. A spokesman for J Street, another pro-Israel organization in the U.S., while criticizing Omar’s words, further said that “…elected officials should also refrain from labeling all criticism of Israeli actions or policies as ‘anti-Semitic’”.

Might Pelosi, McCarthy, et al take some advice from these words? No, probably not. With all those ‘Benjamins’ at stake, why risk rocking the campaign-contributions boat? Better to hysterically shout ‘anti-Semitism!’ any time anyone criticizes Israel’s cruel, barbaric, inhumane and illegal actions.

It’s interesting to note that polls consistently show that younger Americans support Palestine over Israel, and these people are, of course, the future of the country. If and when the current crop of elected officials ever decides to actually represent their constituencies remains to be seen, but this writer is not optimistic. But things are changing and Palestinians are finally being seen as human beings with the same right to self-determination as everyone else. We have people like Representative Ilhan Omar to thank for that progress, and we look to her and other young and truly progressive officials to continue this trend.

 

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Robert Fantina’s latest book is Empire, Racism and Genocide: a History of US Foreign Policy (Red Pill Press).

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