Workers Vanguard No. 1151
22 March 2019
Down With U.S. Imperialist Aid to Israel!
Democrats, Zionists and the Witchhunt of Ilhan Omar
For the past month, American politics has been dominated by a smear campaign targeting freshman Democratic Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for supposedly “anti-Semitic” remarks. Omar said absolutely nothing anti-Jewish. The witchhunt against her whipped up by Republicans and Democrats alike is premised on the fiction that any criticism of Israel equals anti-Jewish bigotry. In the U.S. and beyond, attacks cut from the same poisonous cloth have become standard operating procedure to hound, harass and criminalize defenders of the Palestinian people against Israeli state terror.
Since her appointment to the House Foreign Affairs Committee in January, Omar, one of the first Muslim women in Congress and a supporter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), has attracted the attention of powerful enemies. The hammer came down when she violated what has become a sacrosanct rule in U.S. politics: never question U.S. support to Israel. In response to journalist Glenn Greenwald’s warning of a political crusade against Omar and her fellow Muslim Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib for their criticism of Israel, Omar tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby.” The statement, taken from Puff Daddy’s classic 1997 song, was a commentary on the role of money and the reactionary pro-Israel lobby in U.S. politics, specifically the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
The lying distortion of Omar’s remarks as “anti-Semitic tropes” got its full blessing from the Democrats, particularly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whom Omar just promoted by posing with her on the cover of Rolling Stone under the headline, “Women Shaping the Future.” Under pressure, Omar apologized for her remarks only to be slammed again for questioning why it is acceptable for the U.S. government to “push for allegiance to a foreign country,” i.e., why Americans (such as herself) are obliged to support Israel. For this she was absurdly accused of claiming American Jews had “dual loyalty.” Allegiance to Israel, i.e., a state power, is not synonymous with Jewish culture or religion. In fact, it’s the Zionists who equate them, demanding loyalty from Jews throughout the world to the racist, semi-theocratic Israeli state.
The pro-Israel lobby, which is defined by its political agenda, is powerful and, like all lobbies, throws around a lot of Benjamins. But this is not why both the Democrats and Republicans back Israel to the hilt. Rather, their support is driven by Israel’s role as a nuclear-armed linchpin for U.S. imperialist interests in the Near East. Support for Israel by America’s rulers includes over $3 billion in annual aid, which is used to finance the slaughter of Palestinians.
It takes some chutzpah for Democratic politicians to wax indignant about anti-Jewish bigotry, which runs deep in this country. During the 2017 fascist outpouring in Charlottesville, Nazi-lovers who came out to defend monuments to the Confederacy chanted, “Jews will not replace us.” Last October, eleven Jewish worshippers were massacred by a Hitler-loving gunman at a Pittsburgh synagogue. The fascists are no doubt emboldened by the overt racism of the Trump White House. But both capitalist parties uphold the very social system that breeds such scum. The whole of the American ruling class has tilled the soil in which such resurgent race-terror is growing.
As a black, Muslim and immigrant woman, Omar herself has been the target of white-supremacist death threats and anti-Muslim venom. Earlier this month, a poster put up in West Virginia’s state Capitol during a GOP event tied Omar to the 9/11 terror attacks, and I.C.E. agents shared posts claiming she attended “terrorism classes.” For their part, the Democrats engaged in the spectacle of taking their new Muslim Congresswoman—who’d just been touted as an example of the party’s “diversity”—to task for violating “American values.”
Initially, the Democrats put forward a Congressional resolution condemning “anti-Semitism” to rebuke Omar for her comments. The resolution was then larded in the final version with denunciations of all types of “hate,” including anti-Muslim and anti-Catholic bigotry. One would have to ignore a couple centuries of American history to swallow any claim by the Democrats to uphold the “principles of tolerance, religious freedom, and equal protection.” The Democratic Party is the party of the slavocracy, anti-black lynchings and Jim Crow. The party’s liberal icon, Franklin D. Roosevelt, denied entry to Jews fleeing the Nazi Holocaust and interned Japanese Americans during World War II. The Obama administration broke all records in the deportation of immigrants—not to mention endless drone attacks and backing right-wing coups abroad, such as the one spearheaded by anti-Jewish fascists in Ukraine in 2014.
Break with the Democrats!
Both the Democrats and the Republicans preside over the subjugation of semicolonial peoples abroad and the exploitation of the working class and oppressed at home. As a Democratic Party Congresswoman, Omar is a representative of U.S. imperialism, the very system responsible for destroying her country of origin, Somalia, and turning her and her family into refugees. As part of her service as an imperialist politician, Omar voted for the “NATO Support Act” endorsing continued funding for NATO, a key vehicle for U.S. military hegemony developed as part of the Cold War anti-Soviet alliance.
In a Washington Post opinion piece (17 March), Omar argues that U.S. foreign policy should be based on “human rights, justice and peace”—i.e., she seeks to cloak the bloody reality of U.S. imperialism behind the facade of “universal values.” She went on to explain that her criticisms of “certain Israeli government action in Gaza or settlements in the West Bank” are based on the belief that “these actions not only threaten the possibility of peace in the region—they also threaten the United States’ own national security interests.”
Omar’s pledge of allegiance to U.S. capitalism hasn’t stopped various pseudo-socialists, including the International Socialist Organization and Workers World, from promoting her as part of a new generation of “progressives” who can be pressured to make the Democratic Party champion the interests of working people and the oppressed. It is precisely such illusions in the Democratic Party that have historically made it more effective for the ruling class in mobilizing the populace behind the war and other aims of U.S. imperialism. The role of Omar and others like Democratic Socialists of America member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is to try to put a gloss on the capitalist profit system.
Backing Israel is the stock in trade of all wings of the Democratic Party, including liberal darling Senator Bernie Sanders. For years, Sanders has voted to lavish Israel with military aid, and in 2014 he joined in a unanimous Senate resolution endorsing Israel’s war on Gaza. During the 2016 Democratic primaries, he echoed Hillary Clinton by charging the BDS movement with having “some level of anti-Semitism.” He also fired his campaign’s newly hired Jewish Outreach Coordinator, liberal Zionist Simone Zimmerman, because she had aptly condemned Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for having “sanctioned the murder of over 2,000 people” in the 2014 Gaza war.
On March 6, Sanders issued a statement in which he sidestepped the vile accusations of anti-Jewish bigotry against Omar while objecting that the attacks against her were aimed at stifling “legitimate criticism” of Netanyahu’s right-wing government. Sanders, like many other liberals, thinks the current regime in Israel has gone so far to the right that it has become a liability for supporters of the Zionist state. In fact, it was the liberal Zionists preferred by Sanders who dispossessed and expelled some 750,000 Palestinians, seizing their land and founding the state of Israel in 1948.
Defend the Palestinian People!
In the mid 1980s, the late renowned novelist and essayist Gore Vidal was slandered by Zionist bigots as racist and anti-Jewish. We defended him and pointed to the historical connections between the Zionist movement, which sought to re-ghettoize Jews into their “own” state, and some of the deadliest enemies of the Jewish people:
“Zionism has always been the handmaiden of anti-Semitism, accepting and promoting it in order to justify conquest of the ‘Promised Land.’ The Zionists have collaborated with the most notorious anti-Semites, from mass murderers like tsarist minister von Plehve, Ukrainian pogromist Petliura and the Nazis, to outright bigots like Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, on the basis not only of the most cynical Realpolitik but of common aims—Jews don’t belong in anyone ‘else’s’ country.”
—“Gore Vidal: Bad Boy of the Bourgeoisie,” Spartacist (English-language edition) No. 40, Summer 1987
Today, the false accusations against Omar come in the context of a growing campaign to isolate and stifle any semblance of international solidarity with the besieged Palestinian people. It is a crusade orchestrated at the highest levels of the Israeli state, with the support of its U.S. imperialist patrons. Half of all U.S. states have some type of anti-BDS law, and a number of university administrations have restricted BDS activities. Last year, Bahia Amawi, a children’s speech pathologist in Austin, Texas, lost her job because she refused to sign a pledge that she would “not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.”
A sinister organization, Canary Mission, has created a blacklist of thousands of pro-Palestinian students and professors, posting their personal information online and slandering them as supposed “terrorist supporters.” The Israeli state has used that list to detain and deport activists trying to enter Israel. Canary Mission has sent masked thugs to intimidate student meetings where pro-BDS resolutions were put forward, and in at least one case, pressured school administrators into calling the FBI on a student.
We stand for the defense of the Palestinian people against Israeli state terror. We oppose all U.S. aid to Israel, demand the withdrawal of Israeli troops and settlers from the Occupied Territories and call for the right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants. While we vigorously defend BDS advocates against victimization and repression, we oppose the liberal strategy of the movement, which looks to employ moral suasion to pressure campus administrations and American corporations to ditch Israel and put their money in presumably more ethical investments. This scheme is not just utopian but is actually an obstacle to Palestinian liberation. It banks on the “humanitarian” credentials of the imperialist forces that are the historic occupiers and oppressors of the peoples of the Near East.
In contrast to the BDS movement, our starting point is the need for international working-class solidarity in defense of the Palestinians. We are for time-delimited labor boycotts—workers refusing to handle Israeli cargo—to protest particular atrocities like the bombing of Gaza. We are also for a standing labor boycott of all military shipments to Israel, which would be a real blow against the Zionist butchers and, even more crucially, the bloody U.S. imperialists. The purpose of these demands is to strengthen the fighting power and class consciousness of workers in the U.S. and elsewhere in solidarity with the exploited and oppressed of the world.
As Marxists, our starting point for addressing the oppression of the Palestinians is the understanding that there are two peoples in Israel/Palestine with legitimate, conflicting claims to the same land. Under capitalism, such situations of interpenetrated peoples mean that the exercise of self-determination—i.e., setting up a national state—can only come about at the expense of the other’s national rights. The possibility of a just, democratic solution for the Palestinian masses, including the right to return to their homeland, requires proletarian revolutions to overthrow capitalist rule in Israel and the surrounding Arab states. Only in a socialist federation of the Near East would the right to self-determination for Palestinians and Israeli Jews be respected, claims over land and resources equitably resolved, and discrimination on the basis of language, religion and nationality eliminated.
Supporters of BDS reinforce the false view of a monolithic Israeli society, denying the fact that it is a class-divided country. As in any capitalist state, the historic interests of the Israeli working class run counter to those of their Zionist rulers and exploiters. We recognize that breaking Israeli Jewish workers from the grip of nationalism will be no easy task. But there can be no revolutionary perspective in the Near East without the inclusion of the proletariat of Israel. What is necessary is to forge revolutionary Marxist parties throughout the Near East that fight against all forms of nationalism and religious fundamentalism and put forward the perspective of international proletarian revolution.
Many activists committed to Palestinian rights may see Ilhan Omar as a champion of that struggle. But the truth of the matter is that she is a representative of one of the major parties of U.S. imperialism, which has enforced and deepened the oppression of the Palestinians and myriad other peoples across the globe. For revolutionaries in the U.S., solidarity with the oppressed in the neocolonial world must start with opposing our “own” ruling class and fighting to bring down U.S. imperialism through socialist revolution at home. This may seem far-fetched in an age when even purported socialists sneer at the Marxist goal of an egalitarian international communist order and militant class struggle seems a thing of the past. However, if history has demonstrated nothing else, it is that the workings of the capitalist profit system will produce class struggle pitting the proletariat against its bourgeois exploiters. It is through the intervention of Marxists into such struggles that a workers party committed to the fight for working-class rule will be forged.
Fighters for genuine Palestinian liberation need to study the lessons of the Bolshevik Revolution, the greatest victory for the working class and the oppressed to date. Based on those lessons, the Spartacist League/U.S., section of the International Communist League, fights to cohere a revolutionary workers party as part of a reforged Trotskyist Fourth International. Only the conquest of state power by the proletariat on a global scale and the establishment of a rationally planned economy can lay the material basis for a society in which racial oppression and imperialist wars are relics of history.