WASHINGTON (Rahnuma) : When Rep. Ilhan Omar shot off a tweet Sunday, she, perhaps unwittingly, exposed not only the limits to which public officials should use the social media platform but the power of one of the most influential lobbying groups in Washington.
The tweet came in response to a call from Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy – who was embroiled in anti-Semitic controversy for saying Jewish billionaires were seeking to “buy” the 2018 midterms – to punish her and fellow freshman lawmaker Rashida Tlaib for their criticisms of Israel.
Omar, who along with Tlaib is one of the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, appeared to shrug off the threat, pointing to the financial influence of Washington’s pro-Israel lobby on U.S. lawmakers by citing the 1997 ode to money from rapper Puff Daddy “It’s All About the Benjamins.”
In so doing, Omar unleashed a maelstrom of charges of anti-Semitism from across the political spectrum, including from fellow Democrats who said the comments played into tropes of Jews covertly using their money to influence the global agenda and called on her to apologize.
Omar heeded their calls, apologizing “unequivocally” for her poorly stated views, but insisted she would continue to stand against the “problematic role” of lobbying in Washington, particularly the sway the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, wields.
The group, which attracts a diverse swath of politicians who vie to land a spot at its glitzy annual convention in Washington, is not a political action committee, or PAC, in a traditional sense. But it does not have to be to rival the influence of some of the biggest interest groups on Capitol Hill, including the pro-gun rights National Rifle Association.
AIPAC does not contribute directly to political campaigns, as PACs traditionally do, but is instead able to marshal droves of pivotal contributors who can be a boon or death knell to a candidacy.
Therein lies its power as a political wrecking ball and lifeline.
The group’s senior leadership has made no qualms about its prodigious influence in Washington.
Steven Rosen, AIPAC’s former foreign policy affairs director, boasted in a 2005 interview with the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg, that he could get 70 percent of the Senate to sign on to a napkin simply because he asked.
The episode followed the disclosure of a 1992 audio recording of a conversation between former AIPAC chief David Steiner and New York businessman Haim Katz in which Steiner boasted he “cut a deal” with former President George H. W. Bush’s administration to provide Israel with roughly $13 billion in loan guarantees and military aid.
That was, Steiner said, in addition to “other goodies that people don’t even know about.”
He spoke of “negotiating” with former President Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign on getting a pro-Israel secretary of state and national security advisor appointed.
“We gave two employees from AIPAC leave of absences to work on the campaign. I mean, we have a dozen people in that campaign, in the headquarters,” he said. “They’re all going to get big jobs.”
Steiner ultimately resigned as AIPAC’s president amid outcry about the disclosures.
When asked by Goldberg if the tapes dented AIPAC’s ability to influence Washington policy, Rosen’s response was the napkin anecdote.