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Ilhan Omar

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) speaks during an April 9, 2021 press conference at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, D.C. in support of Yemeni Liberation Movement hunger striker Iman Saleh and calling for an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led blockade of Yemen, which has pushed the war-torn nation to the brink of famine and greatly exacerbated suffering there. (Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Progressives Rally to Defend Ilhan Omar After 'Bad Faith' Attack by House Democratic Leadership

"Instead of taking on Ilhan, lawmakers should focus on injustice, human rights abuses, and acts of violence being committed at home and abroad," asserted Rep. Pramila Jayapal.

Brett Wilkins

As Rep. Ilhan Omar on Thursday afternoon clarified earlier remarks about "unthinkable atrocities" committed by the United States and Israel following a rebuke from her own party's House leadership, many of the Minnesota Democrat's progressive colleagues joined peace and human rights advocates in rallying to her defense.

"Over 650,000 Iraqis were murdered in an unjust war. The U.S. government suffers from amnesia." —Linda Sarsour, MPower Change

Omar first came under fire from fellow Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday, when a dozen moderate representatives issued a statement accusing her of "equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban," displaying "deep-seated prejudice," and giving "cover to terrorist groups."

On Monday, Omar had asked U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken about justice mechanisms for victims of war crimes committed outside the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court (ICC) during a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. The Biden administration does not support ICC investigations into alleged U.S. and Israeli war crimes in Afghanistan and the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, respectively.

In a tweet explaining her questioning, Omar wrote, "We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban."

Neither the United States nor Israel have ratified the Rome Statute and therefore are not state parties to the ICC; as non-state actors, neither are the Taliban or Hamas.

The 12 lawmakers' reproof drew a sharp response first from Omar spokesperson Jeremy Slevin—who earlier on Thursday accused them of "ginning up the same Islamophobic hate against her" as far-right foes who initially attacked the congresswoman for her tweet—and then from Omar herself.

She tweeted, "We serve in Congress with Islamophobes like Rep. Mo Brooks [R-Ala.] and Democratic colleagues won't condemn him [and] instead give legitimacy to this dangerous rhetoric."

Later Thursday, the entire House Democratic leadership including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) issued a statement arguing that "drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the U.S. and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban foments prejudice and undermines progress toward a future of peace and security for all."

The party leaders added that they "welcome clarification" by Omar that "there is no moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban."

Omar replied in a statement:

On Monday, I asked Secretary of State Antony Blinken about ongoing International Criminal Court investigations. To be clear: the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the U.S. and Israel. I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems.

Omar later noted that victims "don’t trust the 'well-established judicial systems' of Israel and the U.S. to deliver justice."

Progressive Democrats expressed support for Omar throughout the day on Thursday. The Congressional Progressive Caucus issued a statement saying that her "voice is critical and necessary."

"We cannot ignore a right-wing media echo chamber that has deliberately and routinely attacked a Black, Muslim woman in Congress, distorting her views and intentions, and resulting in threats against [her] and her staff," the statement continued. "We urge our colleagues not to abet or amplify such divisive and bad-faith tactics."

Omar said Wednesday that she was once again enduring threats against her life and racist vitriol following her remarks, tweeting, "Every time I speak out on human rights I am inundated with death threats."

Beginning with Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.), all the members of the so-called "Squad" rallied to Omar's defense Thursday.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) blasted "bad faith attempts" to take Omar's "words out of context."

"Imagine if Congress was as outraged by what Palestinians endure daily," she tweeted.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) urged fellow Democrats to "recognize the biases that fuel personal attacks, and defend our colleagues."

"When a woman, person of color, or Muslim speaks out against injustice, backlash ensues," Bowman tweeted. "When [Omar] speaks out, the vitriol is compounded by her being all three."

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress and, along with Omar, the first Muslim woman, tweeted that "freedom of speech doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress."

"The benefit of the doubt doesn't exist for Muslim women in Congress," she added. "House Democratic leadership should be ashamed of its relentless, exclusive tone policing of congresswomen of color."

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)—who is not a "Squad" member—issued a statement in which she rejected the distinction between terrorism perpetrated between state and non-state actors, while slamming Republican colleagues who attacked Omar:

When state actors, including democracies, or non-state actors, such as terrorist organizations, engage in acts that indiscriminately kill civilians or commit gross violations of human rights such as torture or indefinite detention, there should be internationally recognized mechanisms to achieve accountability and enforce agreed upon humanitarian standards.

Rep. Omar asked a serious question which is her right as a member of Congress, but the hypocrites at the NRCC [National Republican Congressional Committee]... should be reminded of their silence when the Trump administration sat down with the Taliban to negotiate a diplomatic agreement without the Afghan government while American service members and Afghan civilians were being attacked and killed.

Antiwar activists and human rights defenders went much further than members of the U.S. government, which has killed more foreign civilians by far than any other entity in the world since waging the only nuclear war in history in 1945. Since then, millions of men, women, and children have died in U.S.-led wars, bombings, and covert actions in dozens of countries on every inhabited continent, including at least hundreds of thousands and perhaps well over a million people during the nearly 20-year War on Terror.

"Actually the U.S. has likely committed worse atrocities than the Taliban and Hamas combined," tweeted CodePink national co-director Ariel Gold.

"Remember the Iraq War? Abu Ghraib?" she asked, referring to one of the numerous prisons, including Guantánamo Bay and CIA "black sites," where Muslim prisoners in the War on Terror were torturedsometimes to death—by U.S. military and intelligence personnel. These men and women were informed by techniques described in U.S. torture manuals used to instruct security forces from Latin American and other dictatorships at the U.S. Army School of the Americas and other torture training centers.

Activist and former Green Party vice presidential nominee Ajamu Baraka asserted that "state terrorism is much more dangerous and destructive" than the attacks perpetrated by Hamas and Taliban militants—whom other observers noted were at one time nurtured and courted by Israel and the United States, respectively.

In the decades since the end of World War II the U.S. has also supported regimes that perpetrated genocidal mass murder in Indonesia, West Papua, Bangladesh, Guatemala, East Timor, Kurdistan, and Iraq; as well as Israeli ethnic cleansing, apartheid, colonization, and other crimes in Palestine; and some of the world's most brutally repressive dictatorships, terrorists, and death squads.

In global opinion polls, the U.S. is consistently ranked the biggest threat to world peace and democracy, and former American President Jimmy Carter in 2019 called the United States "the most warlike nation in the history of the world."

Early on Friday, over 50 national progressive organizations and leaders published a statement of support for Omar.

"We join in solidarity with Rep. Omar and all who are willing to name the simple truth that the United States and its allies should be held accountable for their human rights violations," the signers affirmed. "We urge all members of Congress, and Democratic leadership in particular, to stop falling for manufactured controversy. Fearless leadership for human rights everywhere should be commended, not condemned."

Still others took House Democrats to task for being angrier at Omar for telling uncomfortable truths than with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) for obstructing critical Democratic agenda items including the flagship For the People Act.

Kumar Rao, senior director of strategy and policy at the New York Working Families Party, argued that House Democrats "could be focused on investigating white nationalist members of Congress who conspired [with] MAGA cultists to overturn the election and kill them, but instead, they're going after Ilhan Omar" for asking challenging questions about U.S. and Israeli foreign policy.

Update: This article has been updated to include the statement released Friday from over 50 groups backing Rep. Ilhan Omar.

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