Freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar has received a lot of attention after she claimed that the relationship between the United States and Israel was ‘all about the Benjamins’ and that Israel supporters promote ‘allegiance to a foreign country.’
Omar apologized for her remarks, then doubled-down on them a few weeks later. The House proposed a toothless condemnation of anti-Semitism, then settled on a meaningless resolution condemning hate.
While many have pointed out the dangerous insinuations behind Omar’s remarks, the nut of her accusation has remained more or less unexamined: do foreign nations and their money influence our policy, and is our foreign policy unduly influenced by money from Israel and Jews?
During that brief point in February when Omar apologized, she tweeted ‘I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry.’
Let’s take a look at the numbers: pro-Israel groups spent roughly $5 million on lobbying in 2018.
That might sound like a lot of money, until you realize that in 2013, Norway spent $5 million to push top officials at the White House, in Congress, and at the Treasury Department into doubling spending on foreign aid.
If Omar wants to deal with the ‘problematic role’ of ‘Benjamins, baby’ in our foreign policy, she should take a hard look at contributions from the Gulf states. Those cash infusions not only dwarf the pro-Israel money in size; they support regimes that perpetrate abominable human rights abuses.
The United Arab Emirates, for instance, secretly contributed approximately $20 million to the Middle East Institute, a leading Washington think tank, between 2016 and 2017, according to documents leaked by hackers. The Emirates, according to the Associated Press, operate a network of torture pens in Yemen where captives are grilled alive ‘tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.’
Can we expect Omar to tweet about that?
From The Intercept:
‘The UAE has used its outsized role to bend US policy in a more militant direction toward the country’s foes: Iran, Qatar, the Houthis in Yemen, and a coalition government in Libya that has gotten backing from Qatar. …. [They assisted] …the Saudi monarch …Bin Salman [as he] directed the country’s assault on Yemen, an ongoing series of war crimes which have been aided by the US and produced a humanitarian disaster of historic proportions, including a cholera outbreak and widespread starvation.’
The UAE also contributed $1 million to build a new glass and steel headquarters just down the street from the White House for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the New York Times reported. Meanwhile, the UAE’s rival, Qatar, has also poured millions of dollars into D.C. think tanks. In 2014, Qatar gave a $14.8 million four-year donation to the D.C. foreign policy think tank the Brookings Institution.
From 2015 to 2017, Saudi Arabia multiplied its number of foreign agents from 25 to 145, and poured $18 million into D.C.-based lobbying. Washington-based think tank the Middle East Institute received large donations from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and smaller donations from Qatar and Oman.
These vast contributions from oil-rich nations to D.C. think tanks are made purposefully: members of Congress believe think tank reports are scholarly, non-partisan analysis, and they take policy recommendations from them seriously.
Analysis by the New York Times found that the millions of dollars given to these think tanks went to produce policy papers, host forums, and organize ‘private briefings for senior United States government officials that typically align with the foreign governments’ agendas.’
Members of President Obama’s administration lamented to the media that ‘Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Arab states have purchased loyalty and influence’ within the US. On the condition of anonymity, ‘members of the DC-based foreign policy community…pointed to ways in which Gulf money, in recent years, has come to distort Washington’s conversations about the Middle East.’
So where is Omar on the ‘Benjamins, baby’ from horrendous human-rights abusing Gulf states?