Politicians and Benjamins is not exactly one of the best kept secrets. Everybody knows no lobbyist, no interest group, no individual gives campaign donations to a candidate or incumbent they believe will not work in their best interest. Why should they? I certainly would not.
Why is it that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar simply saying what is so well-known somehow winds up being classified as anti-Semitic? There’s got to be more to it. Racism never gets this kind of reaction. I have run for office, and been called on the carpet by pro-Israel groups simply for having my best friend from law school, who just happened to be Palestinian with no particular views on the Middle East, as my campaign manager. He was apolitical. It didn’t matter to those complaining that my policy director was Jewish and did have views about the treatment of Palestinians. That was a totally humane position.
I have been to Israel and to the areas where Palestinians live. I’ve seen the devastation of homes. I’ve seen the olive trees bulldozed. I’ve seen Palestinians punched with the barrel of guns and more. I’ve also been to Holocaust museums in different parts of the world. I’ve read stories and heard the testimonies of families affected by such cruelty. I’ve heard the unbelievable tragedy of many families, and my heart bleeds for the pain of all involved. I can’t allow my heart to ache for my Jewish friends while ignoring my Palestinian friends.
So, in my campaign, I couldn’t swear my loyalty to anyone while seeing a wrong against another. During my campaign for Congress, a man by the name of Shelly Beychok who at the time was an activist in AIPAC, and as I was told a Board Member, tried to force me to sign a “loyalty to Israel” document before supporting me. Just days before the election, polls had me leading my opponent (a well-known racist Republican who’d called for burning down schools before allowing Black and white children to attend school together).
When I refused to sign such a document, a headline suddenly appeared in a major newspaper that I was a PLO sympathizer. That meant that no Benjamins should be given to me as a campaign donation, and it meant many of my supporters should back off from supporting me. Mr. Beychok preferred to have my opponent win because I would not pledge my loyalty to anyone. I was a politician who refused to take Benjamins to vote against my conscience. There are others who do the same, but there are also many who will pretend the issue doesn’t matter so long as the group gives them campaign donations. I am absolutely sure of that. Some have even told me so and of their fear of the PAC in question. It’s no different from some of our community leaders who take money from groups that are not working in the best interest of our community. I see that frequently, and it’s painful.
With my background in politics, I cannot understand the furor surrounding Congresswoman Ilhan Omar saying it’s about the Benjamins. Maybe some would vote the way they do without a campaign donation, but donors certainly don’t give their money to those perceived to be against their position on issues. Truth is always a defense. I had to stop watching CNN because of what they did to Marc Lamont Hill who called for justice for Palestinians, and in no way called for harm to Israel. Why should his remarks be called controversial or anti-semitic?
I am convinced that many politicians support issues because of the Benjamins — not because of what they believe is just.
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women, Inc.