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Rep Ilhan Omar’s tweet that US politicians’ support for Israel is ‘all about the Benjamins’ sparked a furious backlash on Twitter, with cries of anti-Semitism from some, while others detailed the Israeli lobby’s influence.
The controversy kicked off when Omar shared, and responded to, a tweet by journalist Glenn Greenwald about Republican Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) threatening punishment against her and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) for their support for the Boycott Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Journalist Batya Ungar-Sargon swiftly reacted, wondering who Omar thinks “is paying American politicians to be pro-Israel,” and accused her of making an “anti-Semitic trope.”
“AIPAC!” the congresswoman responded, referencing the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby group, which spent $3.5 million on pro-Israel lobbying in 2018, and $3.4 million in 2017.
Many took to Twitter to accuse Omar of anti-Semitism, with others claiming ignorance about AIPAC.
Some people tried to explain the lobbying group’s influence, with one person drawing attention to a tweet by the US Ambassador to Israel that described AIPAC as “Israel’s national strategic asset.”
AIPAC’s own website explains how its Congressional Club members must “Make a minimum financial commitment of $2,500 a year, or $5,000 per two-year election cycle, to pro-Israel politics,” and commit to “giving political contributions in a clearly pro-Israel context to candidates running for the United States House of Representatives and/or United States Senate.”
Its education arm, the American Israel Education Foundation, brings newly-elected members of Congress on luxury trips to Israel where attendees meet with Israeli officials. The Intercept reports it has spent $12.9 million bringing 363 lawmakers and 657 congressional staff members to Israel between 2009-2018, with a typical trip costing between $9,300 to $10,500.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle know the importance of giving speeches at AIPAC’s annual conference, particularly if they are considering a presidential run, as the group will encourage its members to support pro-Israel candidates and put candidates in touch with big donors.
AIPAC also helped draftthe Israel Anti-Boycott Act (S. 720) bill criminalizing support for the BDS after outlining in its 2017 lobbying agenda that the passage of the bill was one of its top priorities. In 2009, two congressmen forgot to remove AIPAC from a letter they sent to President Barack Obama about the Middle East peace process.