A freshman House Representative, Ilhan Omar, recently made comments that were critical of the influence lobbyists have on political decisions in the United States. This is a sentiment very much in vogue – Americans are concerned about moneyed interests having disproportionate influence in a republic founded by the people and for the people.
Unfortunately for this freshman representative, the lobby group that she pointed out was American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – a lobby group that promotes the interests of Israel. And in the United States a common attack on someone who expresses a critical opinion of Israel – in any form – is smearing them as an anti-Semite. The fact Representative Omar is an out-and-proud Muslim makes these smears particularly acute.
Israel is generally seen as a Jewish state, and the influence that the Jewish religion has on Israeli law and customs is undeniable. But this does not give Israel license to the entirety of Judaism – it is not like Vatican City where the head of state also functions as the head of Catholicism, nor like the Caliphate of older days claiming temporal and divine dominion over the Ummah. Neither the Prime Minister nor the President of Israel hold an equivalent position as the Pope or the Caliph, and by extension neither does the government of Israel. Despite linking itself inherently with Jewish identity, Israel is a state not unlike India, Peru, Finland or Japan, and decidedly not a religion.
What Israel does have license to is the representation of the population it supports, not all of it Jewish. And how the Israeli government treats some members of its population is as deserving of criticality as how the Chinese government treats Uighurs, how the Russian government treats homosexuals and how the American government treats prisoners.
While those that like to keep life simpler than it actually is could link together the actions of a government with the actions of the people it supposedly represents, it is a foolish outlook worthy of contempt. The actions of the Chinese government should not influence one’s attitude toward Chinese people much as the actions of the Russian government should not influence one’s attitude toward Russian people or the actions of the Israeli government should not influence one’s attitude toward Israeli people. This is a form of group punishment and deserves nothing but derision. A government, even a democratic government that draws its sovereignty from the people, must not be conflated with individuals that lay inside the groups that the government claims it represents.
Consider the people of Taiwan. The mainland Chinese government holds the attitude that Taiwan is a province in rebellion, filled with people that should be underneath its thumb. After all, don’t the people of Taiwan share the same history as the rest of China? Don’t they use the same alphabet? According to the Taiwanese, that means exactly nothing. They do not feel represented by the mainland Chinese government, they do not want to be beholden to the conduct of the mainland Chinese government, and they are not abandoning their heritage by doing so. And they are certainly not above being critical of the mainland Chinese government, nor are Hong Kongers.
Jews can likewise do the same. They can disagree with how the Israeli government conducts itself, particularly Benjamin Netanyahu’s utilization of ultra-orthodox Zionist fanatics to support his policies. This is similar to the American Republican Party’s adoption of fanatical Christian beliefs into its public policy. Does that make a Jew that is critical of Netanyahu a self-hating Jew, or the American that is critical about the Republican Party a self-hating American? That seems like the thought process of the aforementioned contemptible outlook.
So why does Israel get the kid gloves? Well, this all started because of the issue of moneyed interests steering politics. Some lobby groups put all their chips into one of the primary parties while others hedge their bets and give tribute to useful politicians regardless of affiliation. AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups are the latter – both Republicans and Democrats receive funding from them, though Democrats get more. Israel ranks third in foreign countries that infuse cash into American politics, after South Korea and Japan. What seems to be going on is the established core of both the Republican and Democratic parties are pounding the drum of reform and bringing power back to the people by emphasizing donors of the rival party and turning a blind eye to those that play their dollars right.
This is decidedly not what the American people want; it is cynical ploys such as this why Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has found herself in the limelight both by those that venerate her and those desperate to relegate her to a fringe on the political spectrum, despite sizable majorities for many of her platform concerns. Her emphasis on money corrupting public policy, echoed by Representative Omar (who was pressured into apologizing by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi) is a colorblind issue. It is in situations like these that we should remind ourselves that those that are successful in life are more likely to be sociopathic than the average person, which means the hyper-wealthy that nudge policy to their selfish benefit will hold no smear too low nor strategy to debased.
Let us not be so reflexively manipulated.