Over 50 Progressive Groups, Leaders Back Ilhan Omar Against 'Bad Faith Attacks'

Letter decries 'smear campaign' against congresswoman after 12 Jewish House Democrats said she compared Israel and the U.S. to Hamas and the Taliban

Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels
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U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar at the vigil site for Daunte Wright in Minnoseta, in April.
U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar at the vigil site for Daunte Wright in Minnoseta, in April.Credit: REUTERS/Nicholas Pfosi
Ben Samuels
Ben Samuels

WASHINGTON - Over 50 progressive organizations and leaders on Friday backed Rep. Ilhan Omar after 12 Jewish House Democrats lawmakers urged her to clarify a statement that they claimed compared the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban.

“Representative Ilhan Omar is facing a smear campaign for daring to name what few will: that all victims of war crimes deserve justice, regardless of who commits the crimes. As national progressive organizations and leaders devoted to upholding human rights everywhere and ensuring our democracy can flourish through freedom of speech, we support Rep. Omar and condemn these bad faith attacks," the statement reads.

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“For too long, the United States and its allies have acted with impunity for the atrocities that they commit across the globe. Those who dare to violate Washington taboos and name this simple fact should be commended for their bravery. Instead, they are censored," it continues. 

“Make no mistake: these attacks and intentional twisting of her words are designed not only to silence criticism of U.S. foreign policy, but to silence an outspoken woman of color. That this latest round of vilification is once again about Rep. Omar in particular is not a coincidence: the repeated targeting of Rep. Omar is rooted in sexism, racism, and anti-Muslim bigotry," it adds.

“It is no surprise that Rep. Omar’s opponents would seize on any opportunity to once again attack one of Congress’s leading progressive voices. The true shame is that many in her own party would buy into such bad faith attacks. 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. 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,” it concludes.

Among the signatories to the letter are Jewish organizations and individuals such as the IfNotNow Movement, Jewish Voice for Peace Action, Jews for Racial & Economic Justice and B'Tselem USA Director Simone Zimmerman. The statement comes after progressive Democrats defended Omar, accusing Democratic lawmakers and party leadership of demonizing her. 

"Rep. Omar is a rare voice of courage and clarity in Congress," Zimmerman told Haaretz. "It’s shameful that many of her Democratic colleagues consistently muster more outrage at those who seek accountability for war crimes than at those who have committed actual war crimes."

IfNotNow said that "the Jewish members of Congress feeding into the right-wing outrage machine and using Islamophobic tropes to smear Rep. Ilhan Omar do not represent the values of the American Jewish community," adding that "their actions demonstrate that they are more interested in protecting Israeli occupation and apartheid from criticism than working towards Jewish safety and equal rights for Palestinians and Israelis."

"It’s clear that progressives are not going to stand idly by while one of their most powerful voices in Congress is maligned, defamed and has a target put on her back by the far-right and even some Democrats," a senior aide to a progressive Democrat told Haaretz, adding that "efforts to further police the words of outspoken women of color don’t help us have an informed policy debate around Israel — and they certainly don’t help the Democratic Party’s ability to be successful."

Democratic leadership, as well as several Jewish House Democrats involved in the statement, welcomed Omar's clarification that she was not equating the U.S. and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban, but specifically asking about accountability for specific incidents regarding individual ICC cases. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, however, decried the party's handling of the matter after attempts to move past the incident.

Omar said late Thursday that lawmakers' critical reactions to her question "fail to acknowledge that these victims don't trust the 'well-established judicial systems' of Israel and the U.S. to deliver justice," adding that the rights of people to seek justice in international courts must be supported whether there is agreement on the ICC's legitimacy or not.

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