Diplomacy

TIP CEO: AIPAC Represents Americans Who “Understand the Value of the U.S.-Israel Alliance”

Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar (D – Minn.) has once again been accused of anti-Semitism and castigated by members of both parties, this time for suggesting on Sunday that politicians only support Israel because of financial contributions from pro-Israel groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

In an interview with NPR’s Peter Overby on Wednesday, The Israel Project’s CEO and President, Josh Block, observed that in her comments, Omar had misrepresented the nature of pro-Israel groups in the United States and had maligned the U.S.-Israel relationship, which, he said, is based on shared values and interests.

“Omar tweeted that it’s, quote, ‘all about the Benjamins.’ And by that, she meant AIPAC. The PAC in AIPAC, though, doesn’t stand for political action committee. It’s public affairs committee,” Overby said, introducing Block.

Block then explained that AIPAC “is a lobby that represents Americans who support the U.S.-Israel alliance.” He clarified that “it itself, as an organization, does not make endorsements. It doesn’t contribute to campaigns. It doesn’t contribute to candidates – none of those things. In fact, it doesn’t even have a PAC.”

Overby, in return, noted that AIPAC has more than 100,000 members and spent around $3.5 million on lobbying in 2018, making it a powerful player in the pro-Israel community.

“That’s the thing about what it is that makes AIPAC so special,” Block observed. “It’s the relationships that exist – real ones between actual constituents, Jews and non-Jews and members of Congress who understand the value of the U.S.-Israel alliance.”

Critics have condemned Omar’s statement as anti-Semitic because they say it entertains age-old canards about Jews using their money to manipulate governments.

“The pro-Israel lobby, which spans from J Street to the Zionist Organization of America to local grassroots groups around the country, is built on the strength of ordinary Jewish and Christian Americans – indeed, the pro-Israel group with the largest membership is Christians United for Israel,” Aiden Pink observed in The Forward.

The Democratic House leadership — Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D – Calif.), Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D – Md.), Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D – S.C.), Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Lujan (D – N.M.), Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D – N.Y.), and Caucus Vice Chair Katherine Clark (D – Mass.) — also issued a statement condemning Omar’s tweet.

“We are and will always be strong supporters of Israel in Congress because we understand that our support is based on shared values and strategic interests. Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” the statement read. “But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologize for these hurtful comments.”

A complete recording of the interview is embedded below.