In Washington, Some Biases are More Objective than Others

Now that the Republicans have returned to controlling the House of Representatives, they are free to carry out their predicted acts of vengeance against their enemies on the Democratic side. Nothing is more urgent than the humiliation of the most hated among the small band of progressives, a Muslim-American who has dared at times to deviate from an otherwise enthusiastically shared two-party orthodoxy on foreign policy and more particularly on the privileged status of Israel.

Democrat Party and Republican Party Symbol on an American Flag Background © cowardlion / shutterstock.com

February 10, 2023 05:13 EDT

Ever since her election in 2018, Muslim-American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Democrat and member of “the squad,” has been a lightning rod regularly attracting the ire of Republicans and to a lesser extent establishment Democrats. At times they have all come down on her nearly unanimously for expressing views that conflict with the reigning orthodoxy concerning US foreign policy in the Middle East. Now, with the Republicans controlling the majority, she has been booted off the House Foreign Affairs Committee, as Al Jazeera reports, “over her past criticism of Israel.”

Ohio Republican congressman Max Miller, who presumably understands the basic principles of democracy, explained the logic of the decision: “Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people.”

Today’s Weekly Devil’s Dictionary definition:

Objective decision-maker:

In Washington DC, a legislator who obediently follows the logic and opinions of a dominant lobby that has succeeded in establishing the only correct way of thinking about complex issues

Contextual note

In other words, Miller can think of himself as an “objective” decision-maker because he uncritically embraces Israel’s point of view, which has been stabilized for the majority of Beltway lawmakers as the baseline of sane policy in the nation’s capital. Lawmakers perceive it as an “objective” position, the one nobody has to discuss knowing that everyone recognizes it and agrees with it. Miller’s conviction that his own bias in favor of Israel authorizes him to accuse anyone who criticizes the Jewish state’s policies — however extreme and oppressive towards minorities — as guilty of spreading “anti-Semitic tropes.” Miller appears to believe that his objective understanding of the reality of the Israeli nation authorizes him to confuse the political regime in power in Israel with the Jewish people.

Omar obviously didn’t agree. She pointed out that “there was nothing ‘objectively true’ about the resolution” to oust her from the committee. She then stated an easily confirmed, authentically objective truth when she remarked that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees.” Humans are, after all, subjective animals and remain so even after learning the socially or even logically imposed rules of objectivity.

Omar’s alleged crimes include citing some of the undeniably objective facts uncovered by a pair of eminent political scientists – both of them hard-nosed “historical realists” – John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt. Their book, “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy,” published in 2007, dared to expose what legislators like Miller prefer to hide: that lobbying, especially when conducted expertly and with unlimited resources, can have a powerful effect on US foreign policy, an effect that may not necessarily be consistent or even compatible with the interest of the American people and the American nation. Lawmakers like Miller have learned the subtle art of profiting from the subtle gifts lobbyists are skilled at packaging in the most diverse forms, including the obligatory campaign funding. That apparently doesn’t prevent them from complaining that others have been corrupted in their objectivity by the influence of foreign money. 

Al Jazeera points out that not only Muslims, but also Jews may become the target of the Israeli lobby’s campaigns of denigration because there appear to be a few misguided Jews who also oppose apartheid and show a suspect empathy with Palestinians. “In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.”

In a similar situation, would the Republicans have removed Levin from membership in the Foreign Affairs Committee on the same grounds? Probably not, because he is not a Muslim, an existential fact that, in Miller’s eyes, prevents Omar from being an objective decision-maker. Still, Jewish politicians such as Bernie Sanders are routinely branded anti-Semitic if they speak out on the question of Palestinian rights. That in itself is a measure of the power of the pro-Israeli lobby in US politics and culture.

Historical note

A specific reason for questioning Omar’s objectivity is her claim that Israel is an apartheid state. Historically, the state that created and even named the type of political regime we call apartheid, was South Africa, which abolished all the racist infrastructure identified as apartheid 30 years ago. If we agree that the Afrikaans word, apartheid, can only be applied to the historical example that was developed in South Africa – just as Jim Crow was specifically created and nurtured in the Southern states of the US – Miller would be objectively correct.

But just as democracy, first formally established in Athens nearly two and a half millennia ago, is used to describe the very different political systems of many modern nations, including that of the United States, apartheid has come to have a meaning associated with the racist mentality as well as the policies and laws that existed under South Africa’s regime throughout most of the 20th century.

Many people complain that calling Israel an apartheid state is abusive, but both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have made that precise claim, along with distinguished  personalities such as former US President Jimmy Carter. That term remains controversial, due to the general opprobrium associated with the former South African regime, but there are enough evident parallels to consider it a legitimate object of debate. Perhaps it is therein that the problem lies concerning the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Certain policies among the Beltway elite are considered beyond debate and fall into the domain of received opinion and unquestioned orthodoxy. Questioning Israel’s policies for many is tantamount to impugning the flag.

Ayn Rand, the novelist and polemicist, still influential among libertarians in the US, called her brand of fanatically individualistic ideology which she claimed to be a system of philosophy, objectivism. Her concept of objectivity elevates a form of “heroic” egocentricity some might equate with pure narcissism to the status of a supreme virtue. She defends selfishness and condemns altruism as an aberration from nature itself.

Rand proved that a word like “objective” can be turned into a concept that begins to resemble its opposite. In his appreciation of how lawmakers should make objective decisions, Max Miller seems to be doing the same thing.

*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of Fair Observer Devil’s Dictionary.]

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.


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