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The Lesson Democrats Should Take From the Ilhan Omar Controversy: It’s Finally OK to Criticize Israel

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13.02.2019

The day that began with a media furor around Rep. Ilhan Omar’s recent tweets did not end the way many on the left feared it would. While centrist Democrats and the party’s leadership predictably criticized the first-year congresswoman from Minnesota for her tweets about the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), most of the party’s progressive base rallied behind her. Omar’s tweet about “the Benjamins” may have been ill-advised—many thought it traded, whether intentionally or not, on the anti-Semitic idea that Jewish money controls the government—but by the news cycle’s end it had performed a kind of public service, focusing attention on, and in a way demonstrating, the power the pro-Israel lobby wields in American politics. Articles detailing the way AIPAC marshals its significant resources and extensive influence to shut down criticism of Israel and bolster support for Israeli policies appeared not only in reliably left-wing publications like the Intercept, but also among the gatekeepers of acceptable liberal opinion like Vox. If Omar’s intention was to shift public debate about AIPAC’s role in U.S. politics, she seems to have succeeded.

This is an encouraging lesson for the Democrats going forward. It is not only the case that the bipartisan consensus on support for the Israeli government has fractured, but that the Democratic Party’s consensus has as well, with the progressive wing now eager and emboldened to push leftward on the issue of Israel-Palestine. Recent polling strongly suggests their constituents want this: A 2018 Pew survey found that the share of liberal Democrats who sympathize more with Israel than the Palestinians has declined from 33 percent to 19 percent over the course of just two years. A shift of this speed and magnitude means that the Democrats can afford........

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