The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is facing accusations of Islamophobia and incitement after doubling down on attacks against Muslim-American congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.
AIPAC, a pro-Israel advocacy group that presents itself as bipartisan, has long been running attack ads against Israel’s critics in Congress who are mostly progressive Democrats.
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On Wednesday, Jeremy Slevin, Omar’s communications director, slammed the group for a sponsored post claiming that the legislator sees “no difference between America and the Taliban”, “Israel and Hamas” and “democracies and terrorists”.
Slevin said the language used by AIPAC is “identical” to hate messages the congresswoman receives.
“Make no mistake: AIPAC is putting Rep. Omar’s life at risk with repeated Islamophobic attack ads,” he wrote.
The language AIPAC uses in paid ads to smear and vilify @IlhanMN is virtually identical to the language used in death threats she gets.
Make no mistake: AIPAC is putting Rep. Omar's life at risk with repeated Islamophobic attack ads. pic.twitter.com/Ehkn8qmW7p
— Jeremy Slevin (@jeremyslevin) August 11, 2021
“It shouldn’t have to be stated, but baselessly linking Muslim-Americans to terrorism is *the* textbook example of Islamophobia and is routinely used to silence advocacy for Palestinian human rights,” he continued.
Following Slevin’s post, the Council on American Islamic Relations, a Washington-based civil rights organisation, released a statement condemning AIPAC for what it called an “Islamophobic, dishonest and dangerous ad campaign” against Omar.
“AIPAC’s attempt to spread this vile, Islamophobic language to Facebook users could incite threats of violence against Representative Omar and other American Muslim leaders. Put simply, AIPAC’s bigotry is placing Ilhan Omar’s life at risk,” said CAIR Deputy Executive Director Edward Ahmed Mitchell.
“Facebook should immediately take down these vile ads and congressional leaders must condemn AIPAC for continuing to incite Islamophobic hatred against Representative Omar.”
The outrage did not prompt AIPAC to reverse course; in fact, the pro-Israel group reiterated its message linking Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, to terrorism.
“Your baseless attack on us can’t deflect from [Omar’s] attack on America and Israel,” AIPAC said in a tweet in response to Slevin.
Your baseless attack on us can't deflect from @Ilhan's attack on America and Israel.
It is outrageous for Rep. Omar to put the U.S. and Israel on the same level as the Taliban and Hamas.
— AIPAC (@AIPAC) August 11, 2021
“It is outrageous for Rep. Omar to put the U.S. and Israel on the same level as the Taliban and Hamas. There is no moral equivalence between democratic allies and the terrorists who target them.”
The pro-Israel group was referring to controversy in June when Omar questioned Secretary of State Antony Blinken about the US administration’s opposition investigations into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“In both of these cases, if domestic courts can’t or won’t pursue justice – and we oppose the ICC – where do we think the victims of the supposed crimes can go for justice?” Omar asked Blinken at a congressional hearing.
She later posted a video of the questions that she raised during the hearing on social media with a caption that unleashed a flood of condemnation from both Republicans and Democrats.
“We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity,” Omar wrote. “We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.”
She subsequently clarified that she was referring to the specific ICC cases, not likening the US and Israel to the Taliban and Hamas.
Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives then released the statement welcoming the congresswoman’s “clarification” in an apparent effort to move on from the episode.
But AIPAC is not dropping the issue. The group also attacked Tlaib, a Palestinian-American legislator and prominent supporter of Palestinian human rights, on Wednesday.
“I am so sick of this s**t,” Tlaib, of Michigan, had written in response to Slevin’s post. To which AIPAC retorted, “So are we, Congresswoman. Inciting hate by demonizing Israel and spreading vicious, dangerous lies about our democratic ally Israel doesn’t advance the prospects for peace.”
So are we, Congresswoman.
Inciting hate by demonizing Israel and spreading vicious, dangerous lies about our democratic ally Israel doesn’t advance the prospects for peace. https://t.co/WzE5RM2gKx
— AIPAC (@AIPAC) August 11, 2021
The group “pinned” the post against Tlaib on top of its Twitter account.
Abed Ayoub, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), an advocacy group, accused AIPAC of repeatedly engaging in Islamophobic and anti-Arab attacks against Palestinian rights’ supporters.
“Time and time again they have shown that they are indeed bigots and racists,” Ayoub told Al Jazeera.
“The hypocrisy also comes from all lawmakers, particularly Democrats who claim to fight against Islamophobia, but continue to run to and seek the support of AIPAC. This organisation has done nothing to advance American interests, and continues to sow division and hate without any repercussions.”
AIPAC’s annual conferences often draw legislators and top officials, including presidential candidates, from both major parties in Washington.
— Khaled Elgindy (@elgindy_) August 12, 2021
On Wednesday, mainstream figures denounced the group for its attack on the Muslim congresswomen.
“Not only is AIPAC running false, vitriolic ads against progressive Congresswomen of color, it’s doubling down on them after being called out for dangerously spreading misinformation about lawmakers who are among the most frequent targets of rightwing extremists’ bigotry & threats,” wrote Dylan Williams, senior vice president at J Street, a liberal Jewish group that presents itself as pro-Israel and pro-peace.
AIPAC did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment by the time of publication.
AIPAC is putting Rep @IlhanMN's life at risk with its McCarthyist attacks and demonization.
"@Ilhan's attack on America" ?!?
Describing Muslims as outside the definition of America is textbook Islamophobia.
— Sunjeev Bery (@SunjeevBery) August 11, 2021
This is far from the first time that AIPAC has sparred with lawmakers who criticise Israel.
Last year, the group ran social media ads likening Omar, Tlaib and their Democratic colleague Betty McCollum to ISIL (ISIS).
McCollum, who has been introducing legislation to ensure that US aid to Israel does not contribute to abusing the rights of Palestinian children, released a fierce response to AIPAC at the time.
“Hate speech is intentionally destructive and dehumanising, which is why it is used as a weapon by groups with a stake in profiting from oppression,” the congresswoman said in a statement in February 2020.