Talking Points

Why is the Israel lobby attacking Ilhan Omar?

Ongoing Israeli air strikes and artillery bombardment of the Gaza Strip have killed hundreds of civilians. At time of writing, at least 213 Gazans had been killed, including 61 children, and the territory's beleaguered hospitals are overwhelmed with casualties. As Amira Haas reports at Haaretz, several individual homes have been bombed in the middle of the night with no warning — suggesting a deliberate intent to wipe out entire families, since the Israeli military has detailed information on Gaza residents and has provided evacuation warnings in other instances. Meanwhile, Hamas has fired thousands of rockets into Israel, but because almost all of them were intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome system, only 12 Israelis have been killed, including one child.

Israel's actions have inspired unusually stark condemnations from left-wing Democratic members of Congress, including (but not limited to) Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. In response, the leading pro-Israel lobbying organization in the U.S., the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, has spent thousands of dollars on Facebook attack ads with the faces of Omar and Ocasio-Cortez superimposed on pictures of Hamas rockets — all but implying they are in league with the group:

AIPAC ads

Screenshot | Facebook

These ads are plainly dishonest (though not as bad as the 2019 ads that said Omar was "maybe more sinister" than ISIS, for which AIPAC apologized). In a recent speech, Omar condemned both Israeli bombing and Hamas rockets: "I understand, on a deeply human level, the pain and the anguish families are feeling in Palestine — and in Israel — at this moment … whether rocket attacks or air strikes, violence does nothing to make people more secure." Ocasio-Cortez has also said Hamas' actions are "condemnable[.]"

Their criticism is focused primarily on Israel because that country is committing the overwhelming majority of the violence against civilians in the conflict, and because it receives both enormous subsidies and diplomatic protection from the U.S. government. America has little leverage over Hamas, but could easily pressure Israel into accepting a proposed ceasefire from Hamas it has so far rejected, or ending the occupation that is at the root of the conflict. One wonders why AIPAC feels the need to single out these two women of color (one of whom is a Muslim) and misrepresent what they are saying.