In the anti-Semitic imagination, Jews run the world through a global conspiracy of cash and power. This belief is both old and resilient, and in the past seven decades, anti-Semites have relied on this framework to explain the tight alliance between the United States and Israel.
On Sunday night, a freshman representative from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, cheerfully repeated this anti-Semitic trope, implying that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, pays politicians to support Israel. Top Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have called on Omar to “reject anti-Semitism in all forms,” according to The Washington Post, while Republicans have argued that her comments reveal the depth of anti-Israel sentiment in the Democratic Party. “I unequivocally apologize,” Omar said in a tweeted statement on Monday. “At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA, or the fossil-fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”
Along with perpetuating anti-Semitic stereotypes, Omar’s comments were inaccurate and incomplete: AIPAC’s influence, which does not include payments to politicians, is only a small part of why the U.S.-Israel alliance is almost universally supported in Congress. Her comments, and the backlash they provoked, show how fractured the American debate over Israel has become. Omar is the new face of anti-Israel criticism on the left, and yet her use of anti-Semitic tropes undermines her credibility. Her comments have provoked a cycle of outrage, amplifying the most extreme voices on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and limiting the chances for more nuanced debate over America’s support for Israeli policies. Instead of creating more space for critical debate about Israel, Omar has added credence to a common caricature of the anti-Israel left: that opposition to Israel is partly fueled by conspiratorial anti-Semitism.