Pelosi’s Treatment Of Ilhan Omar Exposes The Myth of Courage And Reach of AIPAC

By Danette Zaghari-Mask

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, an African-American, Muslim refugee, stood up to one of the strongest and most influential lobbying firms in U.S. History – the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Last Sunday, Rep. Omar retweeted Glenn Greenwald’s statement: “GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy threatens punishment for @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib over their criticisms of Israel. It’s stunning how much time US political leaders spend defending a foreign nation even if it means attacking free speech rights of Americans.” Rep. Omar added the line: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” in reference to AIPAC, a powerful U.S. lobbying firm which works to gain support for the secular, nationalist ideology known as Zionism.

While AIPAC itself does not make political contributions (its legal status prevents such action), it puts its multi-million-dollar lobbying budget to use to buy support for Zionist foreign policies. It also plays a very significant role, linking Congress members and those who want to hold Congressional office, to Zionist donors that will directly fund Congressional campaigns.

The phrase: “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” are the lyrics to a song by American rapper and producer Puff Daddy. “Benjamins” is a reference to $100 bills that feature Benjamin Franklin’s image. The reference appeared on the debut album, “Ready to Die,” by The Notorious B.I.G.

Zionism drives the illegal occupation of Palestine and relegates Palestinians to, at best, a second-class status. AIPAC’s lobbying efforts and candidate-donor linking buy Congressional and Executive Branch support for segregation and even ethnic cleansing of Christian and Muslim Palestinians. It is a system akin to Apartheid South Africa and the segregated Jim Crow era of the United States, which is why it has inspired the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) that works to put economic pressure on the Israeli government, to force Israel to adhere to international law and respect the natural rights of all people, regardless of their ethnic or religious identity.

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The Pro-Israel Zionist lobby spent a whopping $14.9 million dollars in 2018 and has historically given more money to members of the Democratic party than any other political party. It was the 50th biggest spender in the last election cycle. AIPAC ensures that Zionism’s ideology receives unbridled, even bipartisan, support in the U.S. Congress through political intimidation. Within the Democratic Party, it operates very much like the NRA. Indeed, criticism of AIPAC is treated as a political death sentence. It is a cash cow and it is the sacred cow in American politics.

Yet, Rep. Omar broke all the political rules. Not only is her political career not funded by AIPAC, she also dared to openly express that there is likely a causal relationship between the outside money received and the official benefits conferred. And on top of all that, she drove home her point with a quote by a black rapper.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasted no time in responding. She claimed that her colleagues’ comment was clearly anti-Semitic. Really?

If that were true, we could never critically examine AIPAC. No special interest lobbying group should ever be off-limits. Outside money in American politics is a genuine concern.

Furthermore, Anti-Semitism is a real and present global danger. When we claim that criticism of AIPAC’s relationship with its political payees is inherently anti-Semitic, we are detracting from actual instances of anti-Semitism throughout the world. Instances in which people are targeted and harmed, simply because they are Jewish.

Pelosi’s swift reaction illustrates a very real splinter between her and many politically progressive women of color. If we want to understand that schism, we must listen to women of color and validate their experiences. Those experiences include Rep. Omar’s courageous stone-throw against Goliath moment, which Pelosi turned into a stage act for scoring her own political points.

Rep. Omar is a survivor. Against all odds, she rose to a congressional position. Not surprisingly, she uses her powerful platform to advocate for other oppressed people – in this case, the Palestinian people.

Yet, what does Pelosi do?

She presents Omar with an impossible deal. Either sign onto an apology or be crushed and eliminated. If we want to truly understand why women of color generally have so much resentment towards white liberal women, case-in-point. Too often white liberal women like Pelosi pose for the photo-op, but we do not rise to the occasion for our minority sisters.

A true ally is not created from convenience. A true ally will stand should-to-shoulder on principle and courage. Women like Pelosi will throw a woman of color under the bus, then on a more convenient occasion, snatch her back off the ground, scrub off the wheel marks and smile for the camera.

I’m not impressed if Pelosi can clap back for the camera. She’s not a role model for my Muslim Arab daughter. She is certainly not her ally. She represents privilege, pain, betrayal, and disappointment. And, personally, I’m tired of being represented by white women like Pelosi who don’t support women of color in their own parties. I’m tired of politicians like Pelosi who curate a mythology of courage around themselves while tearing down women like Ilhan Omar who exhibit actual courage and conviction.

Danette Zaghari-Mask is an attorney for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization. Her views are her own and do not necessarily represent those of the organization she serves.

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6 responses to “Pelosi’s Treatment Of Ilhan Omar Exposes The Myth of Courage And Reach of AIPAC”

  1. Avatar Raid Mohammad says:

    In my years of dealing and communicating with American Jews, most of them seemed to be very diligent and very sincere in their every day efforts to keep America secure and strong. They believe that thd strength and stability of Israel is contingent upon the strength and stability of the USA. However, and unfortunately, I can’t say that about most of us Muslims who abandon our failed Islamist countries and immigrated to the West in the last 50 years. Some of us, if not most of us, feel that the only way our failed countries can get some salvation is by weakening and destabilizing the West.

    • Avatar Mustafa says:


      Does anyone actually think this silly and rehearsed line is something to take seriously? Israel is an ethnic cleansing state. It lacks legitimacy for that reason.

  2. Avatar Raid Mohammad says:

    Dear Danette Zaghari-Mask, Ilhan Umar is a Somali-American not an African-American. When I talk about my origin, I say I am an Iraqi-American. I don’t say Asian American even though Iraq is in Asia. The term African-American is very specific and it is reserved to those descendants of Black slaves. It is reserved for those who struggled and sacrificed blood and treasure during the decades long civil right movement along side the American Jews to advance civil liberties and civil rights. Ilahan Umar, nor any of CAIR’s agitators, operatives and agent-provacatures, was even in existence let alone contributing an iota to achieve it. To the contrary, their exploitation of this well-intentioned acts and codes are causing even African-Americans to reconsider.

  3. Avatar delphia blize says:

    ilhan has a history of using stereotypical language and tropes when discussing this issue, that is the problem, not the content of her critique. pelosi handled it fine, ilhan handled it fine and took responsibility for learning about this language. let’s move on. Ilhan is neither a victim who needs to be rigidly defended (in this instance) nor a villian who made some sort of unforgiveable gaffe. she’s a human who made mistake and corrected herself, a human with some bias – certainly not the first or last pol to reveal bias. we don’t need to go to such extremes in thinking about nuanced issues. i doubt Ilhan would apologize unless she felt it was warranted, she’s pretty hard to force to do anything, so let’s look at this as a great example of someone who cares about the impact of her words and learn from her leadership.

  4. Avatar GregAbdul says:

    This kind of talk would mean a lot more in an American context if we had Muslims openly criticizing Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. When you only want to speak about Palestinians and refuse to say a single word about racist fake Muslims who happen to be black, that is the opening where non Muslims look and see anti-semitism. If you want people to take the anti Zionist talk from Muslims in a serious manner, we have to have the courage to stand against bigots in the black community who lie and say they are with us, especially when everyone and their mother knows they are a group of black American bigots who hate Jews. Our silence puts us with the black American bigots and renders criticism of the Israel useless.

  5. Sister,

    “A true ally is not created from convenience. A true ally will stand should-to-shoulder on principle and courage. Women like Pelosi will throw a woman of color under the bus, …”

    That you assert this is about a woman of color is, for me, a distraction. I believe Madame Chairperson Pelosi will ‘throw any man or any woman under the bus’ who disrupts the caucus and unity of the House Democrats.

    While I am sure you did not mean that bus thingee literally, I suggest you note that America is a republic, and one in which to effect democracy in this republic requires courage as well as comprise, manners as well as truthfulness, and mature consideration along with youthful spontaneity.

    Peace in,


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