The Attack on Ilhan Omar and Pelosi’s Unconditional Support for Israel

19 Mar
6:38 AM

Nancy Pelosi pledged support for Israel “even if the Capitol crumbles,” as major Democratic Party funder and pro-Israel advocate Haim Saban looked on – TRNN’s panel discusses anti-Semitism, Israel and the Democratic Party with Jacqueline Luqman, Jeff Cohen and host Paul Jay.

Jeff Cohen was the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and he was the founder of the media watchdog FAIR. He is the co-founder of RootsAction.org.

Video & Transcript

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

This is part two of our sort of a weekly roundup where we talk about a bunch of topics. Part one, if you have watched it, is kind of about Trump and the Republican Party. And we talked a lot about systemic corruption, deep corruption, not just in the Trump organization, but in that whole political stratum around the Republican Party. And we also mentioned you have a similar thing goes on at much of the higher echelons of the corporate Democratic Party.

And one of the things that I personally think–it’s not corruption because it’s legal, but it’s sort of borderline corruption, I think–is how so much of the funding of the Democratic Party affects the policy, particularly in its attitude towards Israel. And it goes it goes beyond normal strategic thinking about Israel and the United States. Sometimes it goes into full prostration in front of–I will use the word, I’m not a congresswoman so no one will care what I say. But yeah, it’s about the Benjamins. There’s a lot of enormous funding that comes from Wall Street particularly, but also from the entertainment sector and Haim Saban, who you’re about to see is on stage with Nancy Pelosi when she’s about to prostrate herself. And Haim Saban is one of the billionaires that’s a major funder of the Democratic Party and certainly pushes the Democratic Party towards a kind of almost uncritical support for Israel.

I’m not saying everyone in the Democratic Party is on that page, but much of the leadership is, same way Sheldon Adelson pushes the Republican Party and helped finance Trump coming to power. I don’t think there’s any accident that Trump moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. That was one of the demands of Sheldon Adelson. Maybe he might have wanted to do it anyway, but to think that the money from some of these Jewish billionaires is not affecting policy is crazy. It’s just fact, it’s too obvious. And it’s not anti-Semitic to talk about how the funding affects policy. It’s no different than the Koch brothers affecting policy on fossil fuels. And anyway, here’s Nancy Pelosi back in December at the Israeli-American Council.

NANCY PELOSI: If this capital crumbled to the ground, the one thing that would remain is our commitment to our aid–and I don’t even call it aid–our cooperation with Israel. That’s fundamental to who we are.

PAUL JAY: If the capital, meaning Washington, DC, crumbled to the ground, we would still support Israel. It’s so fundamental to who we are. She’s, I hope, speaking for the Democratic Party there.

At any rate, now joining me to talk about this and some other issues to do with the Democratic Party, first of all in the studio, Jacqueline Luqman is Editor in Chief of Luqman Nation, a social media outlet, and a regular now contributor on The Real News Network.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Thanks.

PAUL JAY: And Jeff Cohen is the founder of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, and he’s the co-founder of RootsAction.org. Thank you both for joining us.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Thanks for having me.

JEFF COHEN: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: Jeff, let’s start with you. What do you make of, well one, what Pelosi said, which is even kind of over the line of outrageousness, even for leading Democrats? But what do you make of this deep relationship between Haim Saban and others, and the Democratic Party?

JEFF COHEN: Well, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from Minnesota has been attacked for having the temerity to suggest that targeted big funding has something to do with pushing politicians to express their undying allegiance to Israel. And you just witnessed, in that clip, Nancy Pelosi doing it. Other leading Democrats do it. When Nancy Pelosi makes that comment, she’s seated next to Haim Saban, who has said, “I have one issue,” he’s a big Democratic donor, one of the biggest, “I have one issue, and that’s protecting Israel, period.” And so, the lunacy of Washington is that Ilhan Omar got into trouble for saying something that everyone knows is true, that the Israel right or wrong fanaticism, of the Democratic Party leadership especially, is out of control and it has something to do with the funding. Haim Saban, once I think he donated about ten million dollars to build the offices for the Democratic National Committee in Washington, DC.

So I mean, what’s interesting to me is the debate that’s finally happening about Palestinian rights, and does the Israel right or wrong lobby have too much power in Washington over both parties. It’s a debate that only happened because a number of people ran within the Democratic Party, as much as people find that distasteful, and they won. So you have Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American, a Muslim woman, the first Palestinian American woman elected to Congress from Detroit, Ilhan Omar from Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman from New York City. And they’re all wanting to discuss Palestinian rights, and they’re not going to be intimidated by saying, “This comment was over the edge,” or “You implied dual loyalty.”

So it’s fascinating to see this real divide. It’s exciting for someone like me, a Jewish American who’s been trying to generate debate about the U.S. blind support for Israel, despite any human rights violations, that’s gone on for decades. And I’ve been doing this for decades. We’re finally getting somewhere because these young women of color have gotten elected to Congress.

PAUL JAY: Well, I think that’s exactly why Pelosi went so overboard, Jacqueline. Because you can see the rising tide within the Democratic Party. You can see, especially in the sections that are supporting all the progressives, not the least of which is the Sanders campaign, and all the others, and there’s clearly a shift. And when Pelosi says it’s fundamental to who we are, she’s no longer speaking–I’m not sure it ever was, but she’s not speaking for the majority of the Democratic Party, I don’t think, anymore.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: No, she’s not. Oh, I’m sorry, Jeff.

PAUL JAY: Yeah, go ahead, Jeff.

JEFF COHEN: I’ll just say one other thing. She’s not speaking for most Jews anymore. Pew does this polling of Jewish American attitudes toward Israel, and the younger you are as a Jewish American, the more distanced you are and the more concerned you are about Israeli behavior. So again, there’s wealthy money from Haim Sabans and the Adelsons that goes to both parties, and those donors happen to be Jewish. But among middle class Jews, there’s a lot of questioning going on, increasing questioning going on of U.S. support, blind support, for Israel.

PAUL JAY: And I think it’s really important. When she’s saying, with Saban sitting there and sections of Wall Street listening, “fundamental to who we are” means “we, the leaders of the Democratic Party, no matter what happens with new congresspeople, or whatever happens outside in the movement, we’re going to make sure the Democratic Party doesn’t change on this.”

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Exactly. I mean, she went on further to say, as I think it was reported in Mondoweiss, that she told the same group of people, “Listen, I know we’ve got a few new people in our party who are saying things and they’re pushing for this ridiculous two state solution,” to which members of the audience at this gathering booed, or they jeered, when she said “two state solution.” And she told them, “Look, the extreme left in our party, just ignore them.”

So she is sitting on this stage in front of a group of very moneyed, single issue donors. And their single issue is not justice for people of color, black people in the United States, it’s not free college tuition, it’s not environmental justice, obviously it’s not getting money out of politics. So if everything else in this country burns to the ground because of all of these other issues that the Democratic base is supposedly being fought on behalf of by their party, we can all die. But according to Nancy Pelosi, who the Democratic Party is, is they will continue with their aid and coordination for Israel. To heck with the rest of us. We can all just burn to the ground.

Now, this didn’t get a lot of attention when it happened, but because of the high profile criticism, and unfair criticism, of Representative Omar and Representative Tlaib and Representative Ocasio-Cortez, this kind of thing is going to get more attention, and Pelosi and Democrats like her are not going to be able to survive under the weight of this issue. This is one of the Democratic Party’s issues that they can’t sustain themselves under the weight.

PAUL JAY: Jeff, I think it’s very important in this whole conversation to recognize that while not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism, some is. And as you can see, what’s happening in the Labour Party, and I can see it–I mentioned in another interview–even on our own website, mixed in with very legitimate opposition to apartheid in Israel, the occupation, the essentially war crimes against Gaza. But you look in the comments section, there in that critique you will find a thread that’s out and out racist. Just attack on Jews, the Jewish this, the Jewish that, not critique of Israel, but tying together a really anti-Semitic message. Just give me a second to finish this. I think it’s very important to recognize it.

And I would say that for some of the funders, some of the Wall Street funders and other Jews that have a lot of money, they spend most of their day working, whether it’s on the Wall Street or somewhere else, doing business, making money like anybody else in business does. They’re not super political, they don’t have the kind of conversations we have all the time. And Israel does become, for them personally, a symbol that if you’re attacking Israel, you’re attacking me as a Jew. And of course, Netanyahu and the Israelis hammer this down the throat of Jews in America, that they’re really attacking you as a Jew, it’s not really about Israel, when in fact mostly, it is about Israel.

But I think for us having these kinds of conversations, it’s very important, especially for people in the Jewish community in the United States, in Canada, the United Kingdom, now they need to hear that we do get that there really is anti-Semitism, we do get that there are fascists and racists burrowing themselves in this movement to critique U.S. policy towards the Middle East and to critique Israel. On the other hand, this critique is not an attack on them as Jews, and they’re falling into a real trap, which leads to horrible foreign policy of the United States, total injustice for the Palestinian people. And I just needed to do that rant. Go ahead, Jeff.

JEFF COHEN: Yeah, I agree with you. If you look in the base, if you look in the comment sections, you’re going to see that anti-Semitism is alive and well in our country and overseas. There’s no doubt about it. But the comments that we’re referring to from members of Congress who have been critical of Israel and want to get a debate going about the Israeli occupation have not been that kind of anti-Semitism. They’ve been truthful comments about the power of the Israel right or wrong lobby. They’ve been truthful comments about how politicians like Nancy Pelosi keep being pushed to express their allegiance to Israel. Those are truthful. Same thing from the British Labour Party leadership, truthful criticism of Israeli behavior and actions and subjugation of Palestinians.

So yeah, no one’s going to deny that anti-Semitism remains a problem. We just had this shooter in the Pittsburgh synagogue, along with the white supremacists who shoot up African American churches, or in New Zealand, shoot up a mosque. White supremacism is real and anti-Semitism is real. Jacqueline mentioned something that’s really important off the air, which is that there is probably more willingness to debate Israel in the Democratic Party base, even among Jewish Democrats, want to have a debate about Israel’s unacceptable actions with regard to Palestinians.

But in the Republican Party base, this Christian Zionism, the Christian fundamentalism, is so pervasive that it, in some ways, will prevent a debate within the Republican Party more than there will be a debate within the Democratic Party about Israel. And I’m proud to be a Jew who often works in Democratic Party primaries, that that debate is getting louder and louder, and I credit these young members of Congress like Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar. They’re not going to be pushed to the side with inaccurate claims, “Oh, you hate all Jews.”

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yeah. And I’m so glad you brought that up, because I think people need to understand what this Christian end times prophecy is and why it’s so focused on this this unquestioning loyalty with Israel. It is not that these fundamental conservative Christians actually love Jews.

PAUL JAY: The thesis, the theory is Jews go to hell.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Exactly. So I mean, if we really want to have a conversation about anti-Semitism, let’s have a real serious conversation about not just all the other messy and unpleasant theology that some guy wrote, that a bunch of guys wrote, that probably are not the words of actual Jesus, in the Bible that people continue to follow and get completely wrong and destroy people’s lives, but let’s really have a conversation about the anti-Semitism in the end times prophecy that so many Christians believe in.

And I’m not saying this to beat up on Christians, because I am one. I grew up in this theology, I understand it. I understand that we believe our salvation is tied to Jesus coming back to Jerusalem in Israel as the capital of Israel, but we also believe, absolutely incorrectly, outside of historical context, and I do not believe this is the truth of the God or the Jesus I serve, that Jews who do not believe in Christ, the second coming of Christ as their savior, like you said, they’ll go to hell. So I mean, how is that in kind of a loving cooperation or relationship with the people we’re supposed to be giving all this money to protect? No, this is in a perverse kind of fundamentalist tyrannical theology that is driven a lot of conservative Republican politics, that of course they don’t want to talk about this.

PAUL JAY: Well, whether it’s on the Jewish side and people like Netanyahu pandering to the Orthodox Jews–and clearly Netanyahu doesn’t believe in anything but his own power and greater Israel, but not greater Israel for religious reasons, using religion to justify greater Israel–or this unholy alliance between the Zionists like Netanyahu and the right wing Christian evangelicals represented right now in the White House by Vice President Pence, who’s a direct representative of that trend–mind you, he’s also very closely tied to the Koch brothers, and there’s no reason to think the Koch brothers believe any of this, but it’s a great vehicle to manipulate people with. And one would hope that Christians could see that none of this has anything to do with the message of Jesus Christ.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: No, and I think one of the reasons they can’t see is because we have to keep in mind that the Christian faith in the United States, and I think in much of the world, is also rooted in the ideology of white supremacy.

PAUL JAY: And I must add, anti-Semitism. It’s rooted in both of those.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And anti-Semitism. It is, and we can put sexism in there, we can put homophobia. Because there are the words and teachings of Jesus Christ, which I absolutely believe in and are true and try my best to live by. And then there’s all that other stuff that came from the Council of Nicaea and all these other councils, and Constantine, and this was just a bunch of men with political power wanting to use a new movement against a very powerful religious organization that was actually kind of in bed with the Roman state to control everybody else.

So when you have people who are believing in something that means something very deeply to them that is so steeped in problematic and anti-human ideology, this white supremacy and anti-Semitism, it’s really hard to get through to these people. Because they believe their existential salvation, their existential reward outside of this world, comes from believing in this really flawed ideology. And it was hard for me to look at the history and realize, “Oh this is stuff that men did. This was not what Jesus said.”

PAUL JAY: To go back to the Democratic Party, the comments of Ilhan Omar, and “It’s about the Benjamins.” She had to apologize for that, which I thought there was absolutely no reason she should have apologized for that, because clearly it is a lot about money and that’s what she meant by “Benjamins.” Now, a lot of people stood up for her and a lot of the new progressive members of Congress stood up for her.

And Jeff, is this a real crack now? Just a few years ago, Netanyahu came and actually embarrassed Obama, or tried to, and Congress gave him, what was it, 27 standing ovations when he speaks in Congress, and he’s not even invited by the White House, he was invited by the Republican Party? And how many Democrats stood up over and over and over again to prostrate themselves in front of Netanyahu? Well, now you’ve got some Dems who are saying, “No, we’re not going to jump on that.” Amongst many things with these new people in Congress, it’s a fascinating development.

JEFF COHEN: Well, and I think if they had not been elected to Congress–that’s why I believe that progressive socialists should run in Democratic primaries where you can win. If they hadn’t been elected to Congress, this debate wouldn’t be happening. If a number of them, AOC from New York, we wouldn’t be having a debate about the Green New Deal. I mean, there’s all sorts of debates that are happening within the Democratic Party. Pelosi is an Israel right or wrong fanatic. Pelosi denigrates the Green New Deal, she refers to it as “the green dream or whatever they call it.”

But what’s exciting to me is there is a resurgence in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. And all of these debates are happening because of the success of these people getting elected. And at RootsAction.org, we’re rallying around these Congress members because we suspect they are going to be primary. In fact, allies of AIPAC talked openly in a New York Times article that they were going to come after Ilhan Omar in Minnesota. So for those of us at RootsAction.org, we’re ready to go to the defense and raise money for these Congress members that are bold enough to question things like actually doing something on climate change, Medicare for all, Palestinian rights. It’s an exciting time, I think, for progressives within the Democratic Party and without.

PAUL JAY: OK. Well, we’re going to end this one here. Thanks very much for joining us, Jacqueline. Thanks, Jeff. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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