We must thank Ilhan Omar for opening a debate about AIPAC, at last, writes Jonathan Ofir, an Israeli musician, conductor, and blogger based in Denmark.
On Thursday, M.J. Rosenberg, who has worked for AIPAC for years in the ’70s and ’80s, confirmed Ilhan Omar’s controversial tweet concerning AIPAC – that it’s “all about the Benjamins” (referring to $100 bills).
“In short, AIPAC’s political operation is used precisely as Representative Omar suggested”, Rosenberg wrote in The Nation.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) February 11, 2019
This is no small thing, and this shows just how important this debate is – and it’s a debate that Ilhan Omar sparked off. We should be ever so thankful for her person and her courage.
Rosenberg is pushing back against the Israel apologists who seek to shut this debate down. Forward editor Batya Ungar-Sargon, who was actually the first inciter against Omar, tried to downplay the money aspect in relation to AIPAC:
AIPAC, or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, is a pro-Israel lobbying group that focuses on Israel education, trips to Israel for U.S. politicians, its big yearly Policy Conference, and bills that push for pro-Israel measures. In 2018, AIPAC spent $3,518,028; but none of that was to individual candidates. AIPAC does not endorse candidates, nor does it make campaign contributions, though its members and employees do.
But Rosenberg cuts through all of that:
Officially, of course, AIPAC does not engage in political fundraising; it would be illegal for it to do so, and the lobby is vehement on the point that it doesn’t. And it is true that, to my knowledge, it does not directly raise money to support or defeat candidates. But that is just a technicality.
He explains that “Political fundraising is a huge part of AIPAC’s operation”, provides a long list of job descriptions concerning this lobbying, and concludes:
Not mentioned is what all the information is used for political fundraising. That means making sure that pro-Israel PACs know what to do with their money. And making sure that individual donors know what to do with theirs. That is why AIPAC has a large national political operation. If it were not in the money-distribution business, it would simply rely on its legislative department to lobby for and draft legislation for members of Congress. Nor would its political director make a half-million dollars a year. In short, AIPAC’s political operation is used precisely as Representative Omar suggested.
In other words, it really is all about the Benjamins, but people are shocked, shocked! – when Omar says it. That’s Rosenberg’s line:
AIPAC denies fundraising precisely the way Captain Renault in the film Casablanca declared he was “shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on” in his establishment. As he is saying it, one of the club’s crooks hands him a wad of cash, saying, “Your winnings, sir.”
Rosenberg explains how the actual money-handling goes on in the side rooms of the AIPAC conferences:
AIPAC, of course, denies that anyone raises money at its policy conference. And it’s true. No one does… in the official AIPAC rooms. However, there are also the side rooms, nominally independent of the main event but just down the hall, where candidates and invited donors (only the really wealthy donors get the invites) meet and decide which candidate will get what. This arrangement is almost a metaphor for the whole AIPAC fundraising operation. The side rooms are nominally not AIPAC, so AIPAC can deny that any fundraising takes place at their conference. But in fact, they are the most exclusive venues in the country for candidates to raise money in the name of advancing the AIPAC cause.
This is certainly not the first time Rosenberg comes out against AIPAC. And people like Alan Dershowitz have pressed very hard to discredit him, as when he used the term “Israel firsters” in 2012 and left Media Matters due to the brouhaha. But he is a man with a record, having worked as a Senate and House aide, at the State Department, and at Israel Policy Forum. His words carry weight. And right now, they seem to carry more weight than ever. Right now, people are listening.
There’s a new dynamic at play. Ben Ehrenreich noted this yesterday in The New Republic:
With all the shouting it was easy to miss, but something new happened in Washington this week. If you can’t see it yet, put yourself back in 2006, when everything about a Somali-American, Muslim congresswoman tweeting a line from a Puff Daddy song—as Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar did Sunday evening—would have been unthinkable.
Ehrenreich pointed out how Stephen Walt & John Mearsheimer’s paper The Israel Lobby was shouted down back in 2006 – although it was “stating the obvious”:
To almost anyone with experience in American electoral politics, Mearsheimer and Walt were stating the obvious: The near unanimity of politicians’ support for Israel resulted not from inborn Zionist sympathies, but rather organizing and influence—which in Washington invariably involves money.
He describes the hysteria around Omar’s tweet, culminating with President Trump’s demand that she resign and Vice President Mike Pence calling for “consequences.” But it didn’t go like 2006:
For a minute it seemed like it would be 2006 all over again, only potentially far uglier, since neither Mearsheimer nor Walt wore a hijab. And then, suddenly, it didn’t anymore.
It didn’t, because people, including Jews, are speaking out in defense of Omar. This includes former campaign staffers like Adi Barkan (who is also Israeli) saying that it was “Definitely about the Benjamins” when it came to AIPAC, and people like Rosenberg, as well as various progressive Jewish organizations.
This is not a discussion that AIPAC and its acolytes can contain. It’s beyond that. The open secret of AIPAC’s oversized influence on Congress, US governance and foreign policy, is now being debated. Those who are shutting it down, including the old-guard Democratic leadership, should watch out because the false accusations of anti-Semitism are simply losing their clout here. Times are changing, and, as Rosenberg concludes, “that is very good news”.