Earlier this week, Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar suggested that AIPAC — and its associated donors — effectively dictate American policy toward Israel. Her argument has some basis in fact. Through its lobbying and coordination of campaign donations, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee has had a clear and significant impact on U.S. diplomacy toward the Jewish State (or so AIPAC’s members and donors have proudly claimed).
Still, it is inaccurate to say that America’s deferential posture toward the Israeli government is all about AIPAC’s “benjamins” (it is also about American Evangelicals’ impatience for the eschaton, among other things). More critically, the notion that Jewish organizations use their community’s wealth to control foreign affairs is a staple of anti-Semitic propaganda. Thus, while Omar’s critique was aimed at a single pro-Israel lobbying group — and while her claims would have been plausibly correct, if modified only slightly — the congresswoman unequivocally apologized for her unintentional insensitivity to the historical traumas of the Jewish people.
But for Mike Pence, that wasn’t good enough. On Tuesday, the vice-president revealed that he is so adamantly opposed to hate speech, he believes that merely using rhetoric that is reminiscent of anti-Semitic tropes disqualifies a person for high political office.
“Anti-Semitism has no place in the United States Congress, much less the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Pence tweeted, referring to Omar’s seat on said committee. “Those who engage in anti-Semitic tropes should not just be denounced, they should face consequences for their words.”
Pence’s words here are both remarkable, and remarkably brave. The vice-president is, in effect, calling for the immediate resignation of not just Ilhan Omar, but also of Donald Trump, and much of the congressional GOP. To interpret Pence’s remarks in any other fashion would be to suggest that his purported objections to anti-Semitism are purely opportunistic.
After all, if Pence sincerely sees Omar’s tweets as an unforgivable invocation of anti-Semitic tropes, then he surely feels the same way about Donald Trump’s remarks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in 2015, when the presidential candidate told the assembled Jewry, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians, that’s fine.”
And unless the vice-president’s condemnation of Omar’s anti-Semitism was wholly cynical — and I see no reason to jump to so uncharitable a conclusion — then Pence must see the president’s final 2016 campaign ad as an unforgivable offense:
During the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump’s final television commercial featured grainy images of George Soros, the Hungarian-born financier who has become a potent symbol for anti-Semites; Janet L. Yellen, then the chairwoman of the Federal Reserve; and Lloyd C. Blankfein, then the chairman of Goldman Sachs — all of them Jewish — as Mr. Trump warned darkly about the “global special interests.” Shadowy figures, he said, “partner with these people who don’t have your good in mind.”
And anyone who believes that Omar’s claims about AIPAC are a gift to violent anti-Semites (and thus, endangered Jewish lives) must feel the same way about Donald Trump’s decision to insinuate that George Soros was trying to steal the 2018 elections — by directing a caravan of migrants out of Central America, across the U.S. border, and then to polling places all across the country — just days after a neo-Nazi who subscribed to a nearly identical conspiracy theory shot up a Pittsburgh synagogue.
So, barring the highly unlikely possibility that Mike Pence does not actually have much of a problem with anti-Semitism (but only with anti-Zionism, because he believes that Jews must assemble in Israel before the rapture can plunge them all into eternal hellfire), the vice-president has effectively just called on Trump to step down. And Pence is also ostensibly demanding that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy do the same; last fall, McCarthy tweeted, “We cannot allow Soros, Steyer and Bloomberg to buy this election,” insinuating that three Jewish financiers weren’t merely trying to dictate U.S. policy toward Israel with their money, but rather, dictate the outcomes of all U.S. elections.
Finally, it seems grossly unfair to assume that Mike Pence has had an epiphany about the evils of bigotry against Jews — but remains perfectly comfortable with hateful discrimination against other marginalized groups. Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that Pence believes there is no place in our politics for people who defend apartheid rule in the West Bank, and will call for virtually every member of the U.S. Congress to resign, as soon as he reads the following paragraphs from Peter Beinart:
Establishing two legal systems in the same territory—one for Jews and one for Palestinians, as Israel does in the West Bank—is bigotry. Guaranteeing Jews in the West Bank citizenship, due process, free movement and the right to vote for the government that controls their lives while denying those rights to their Palestinian neighbors is bigotry. It’s a far more tangible form of bigotry than Omar’s flirtation with anti-Semitic tropes. And it has lasted for more than a half-century.
Yet almost all of Omar’s Republican critics in Congress endorse this bigotry. The 2016 Republican platform declares that, “We reject the false notion that Israel is an occupier” in the West Bank. In other words, governing Jews by one set of laws and Palestinians by another is fine. Last December, Republican Congressman Lee Zeldin, who has called for stripping Omar of her committee assignments, spoke at a fundraiser for Bet El, a West Bank settlement from which Palestinians are barred from living even though it was built—according to the Israeli supreme court—on land confiscated from its Palestinian owners.
Of course, Pence’s new moral clarity will require him to resign from his own post (in recompense for his myriad offenses against Palestinians, immigrants, and the LGBT community). But when he does step down, he will be remembered as a good Christian man, whose opposition to hateful prejudice was earnest and unequivocal.