Dems throw Ilhan Omar under the bus in defense of Israel (again)

With Friends Like These

It wasn’t long ago that people were insisting the Georgia Senate runoffs were among the most important elections of our lifetime. If Ossoff and Warnock prevailed, crime bill co-author and Iraq War supporter Joe Biden was poised to usher in a a vast array of progressive policies that activists had spent years fighting for. This vision never really attempted to wrestle with the existence of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, who voted with Trump most of the time, much less Kyrsten Sinema. It also didn’t spend much time contemplating the political will or priorities of Joe Biden.

While Democratic unity continues to fray in the Senate, a party rift also developed in the House this week when Dems (once again) attacked Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar for comments about Israel. Omar shared a video of her asking Secretary of State Blinken a question and tweeted, “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.”

This prompted 12 House Democrats to put out a statement claiming that Omar was equating these groups. A big no-no because “ignoring the differences between democracies governed by the rule of law and contemptible organizations that engage in terrorism at best discredits one’s intended argument and at worst reflects deep-seated prejudice.” Reps. Brad Schneider (IL), Jake Auchincloss (D-MA), Ted Deutch (FL), Lois Frankel (FL), Josh Gottheimer (NJ), Elaine Luria (VA), Kathy Manning (NC), Jerry Nadler (NY), Dean Phillips (MN), Kim Schrier (WA), Brad Sherman (CA) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL) all signed the statement.

It’s easy to see what Omar was trying to do. Let’s leave aside the fact that Palestinians have a right to resist under international law and that Israel is illegally occupying the country for one second. Her argument was that if we apply the rule of law to official state enemies, we should also be willing to apply it to ourselves. If anything, she was probably including Hamas and the Taliban so her critics didn’t accuse her of focusing solely on Israel. After all, the ICC is investigating the United States, Israel, the Taliban, and Hamas for war crimes. That was the subject of her question.

However, throwing Hamas in as some sort of good faith gesture obviously didn’t deter fellow lawmakers from implying that she’s antisemitic. Brad Sherman spun her inclusion of Hamas into a justification for Israeli aggression.

“It’s not news that Ilhan Omar would make outrageous and clearly false statements about America and Israel,” he said in a statement. “What’s newsworthy is that she admits Hamas is guilty of ‘unthinkable atrocities.’ It’s time for all of Israel’s detractors to condemn Hamas. And it’s time for all those of good will to reject any moral equivalency between the U.S. and Israel on one hand, and Hamas and the Taliban on the other.”

Amazing stuff. Strikingly cynical, but amazing. “If she mentions accountability for war crimes committed by Israel she’s antisemitic,” tweeted Omar’s communications director, “If she mentions accountability for war crimes by Hamas, the Taliban, the US and Israel, it’s giving cover for terrorists. Maybe it’s that she’s asking for accountability in the first place.” And people wonder why many view the Democratic Party as the graveyard of progressive movements.

“We urge Rep Omar to clarify her words placing the US and Israel in the same category as Hamas and the Taliban,” tweeted Brad Schneider. This could easily be clarified (and has been a thousand times before), but something tells me this group would not be fans of the inevitable conclusion.

This cadre of centrists is losing it over Omar’s tweet, but how many House Democrats actually care about Blinken’s response to her inquiry? Here’s the exchange:

Omar: I know you oppose the [ICC]’s investigation into Palestine and Afghanistan. I haven’t seen any evidence in either case that domestic courts can and will prosecute alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. I would emphasize that in Israel and in Palestine, this includes crimes committed by both by Israeli forces and Hamas. In Afghanistan it includes crimes committed by the Afghan national government and the Taliban.

So 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 these supposed crimes can go for justice…and what justice mechanisms do you support for them?

Blinken: …You know our views on the ICC and its jurisdiction. We continue to believe that absent a security council referral or absent a request by the state itself, that that’s not appropriate. I continue to believe that whether it is the United States or Israel…

Omar: Mr. Secretary, I do understand that point. I’m asking what mechanisms are available to them.

Blinken: I believe, whether it’s the United States or Israel, that we both have the mechanisms to make sure there is accountability in any situations where there are concerns about use of force, human rights, etc. I believe that both of our democracies have that capacity and we’ve demonstrated it and we’ll need to demonstrate it going forward.

This is as craven and laughable as anything Pompeo ever said.

“[Omar] asked where Palestinians can seek justice if the US won’t support ICC investigations,” tweeted NIAC’s Assal Rad, “Blinken’s response was they can seek justice in Israel, the state that occupies & carries out daily violence against them. Who wants to tell him Apartheid states are not democracies.”

“Israeli forces have killed more than 1,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza since the ICC probe began in 2015,” explained the Electronic Intifada’s Maureen Murphy. “I can count on one hand, *maybe* two, the number of Israeli soldiers who have been tried in connection to the death of a Palestinian.”

Battle Over BDS at University of Chicago

The attack on Gaza has ignited student battles across dozens of schools in this country. The University of Chicago is an interesting case. On May 21 the incoming Undergraduate Student Government (USG) put out a statement in solidarity with Palestinians. It was cosigned by the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter.

“We..ask that administration and professors have humanity and be willing to make accommodations for Palestinian students and faculty members who are affected by this violence,” it reads. “Furthermore, we support the demand that the University and its students divest from Israel, in order to stop the University from funding the murder of Palestinians.”

The statement also called for “a Palestine that is free … from the river to the sea,” a popular political slogan purposely misrepresented by defenders of Israeli apartheid.

This caused some problems. First school President Robert Zimmer and Provost Ka Yee Lee sent students an email explaining that the “the University of Chicago does not have an institutional position on international conflicts.”

Ain’t that the truth. Back in 1967 a University of Chicago committee put out something called The Kalven Report that declared, “To perform its mission in the society, a university must sustain an extraordinary environment of freedom of inquiry and maintain an independence from political fashions, passions, and pressures.” One assumes that, say, Chileans might have some thoughts about the University of Chicago maintaining independence from political passions, but I digress. The Kalven Report was used to justify the school’s refusal to divest from South Africa, so why should another apartheid state be different?

But what about the students? Immediately after the USG statement was released College Council member Julia Brestovitskiy drafted a resolution calling for it to be retracted, but that wasn’t all. Brestovitskiy said the student government should apologize to the school’s Jewish community for standing with Palestine. The resolution was supported by a number of pro-Israel campus groups, including UChicago JStreet

This kind of thing used to be a slam dunk for Zionists, but not anymore. The apology part of the resolution was eventually retracted in an effort to get the measure passed, but it was voted down anyway. University of Chicago SJP put out a powerful statement before the vote, calling for the statement to remain. Here’s part of it:

We do not believe in engaging with narrative-shifting or red herrings. While experiences of ethnic cleansing, segregation, and forced displacement are obvious to the international community and intimately felt by our families, we also, unfortunately, recognize that we cannot take for granted that such a baseline understanding of Israeli Apartheid exists on a campus quite literally invested in it. So, we would like to take a moment to briefly address a few red herrings here, such as the discourse on the chant “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”; the phrase refers to the body of land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and expresses the simple demand that Palestinians within the borders of historic Palestine should be free from occupation. It is a statement explicitly in support of Palestinian liberation and the abolition of a violent political state. If other communities feel oppressed by the simple idea that Palestinians should live with freedom, those “fears” should be interrogated, not our demands for freedom. Interpretation of this phrase as antisemitic is an illegitimate weaponization of antisemitism that distracts from the fight for liberation and the right of return for Palestinians to historic Palestine. 

From its origins, the Zionist ideology attempts to position this struggle as a religious conflict, equating the Jewish community with the settler-colonial state of Israel. This is a calculated effort to conflate a free Palestine with an attack against the Jewish people. As Palestinians are being imprisoned, forcibly displaced, and massacred on a daily basis, the conflation of anti-Zionism with antisemitism is designed to distract from the violent occupation of the Palestinian people and weaken the movement for Palestinian liberation. As the Palestinian community is Muslim, Christian, Jewish, non-religious, Black, Arab, queer, trans, and more, SJP unequivocally condemns antisemitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and all racism in all forms. Our Palestinian liberation movement has not only clearly articulated that we stand against all forms of oppression and racism numerous times, but we also recognize that, as a diverse community with many identities, the liberation of the Palestinian people is wholly dependent upon the freedom of all people. As Palestinian writer Mohammed El-Kurd says, “We chant for our freedom while they chant for our death, that should tell you all you need to know about the settler state.”

Odds & Ends

📊 Vox and Data for Progress have released new polling on U.S. attitudes towards Israel/Palestine. No surprise that Democrats are divided on the issue. 32 % of Dems want Biden to condemn Israel, 39% think the administration has taken the right approach, and 11% want him to be more supportive of the country. Respondents were also asked about military aid to Israel. 45% of Democrats, 35% of Independents, and 25% of Republicans think it should be decreased.

🇦🇫 The C.I.A. is looking for ways to maintain their presence in Afghanistan after troops are withdrawn, according to the New York Times:

One focus has been Pakistan. The C.I.A. used a base there for years to launch drone strikes against militants in the country’s western mountains, but was kicked out of the facility in 2011, when U.S. relations with Pakistan unraveled.

Any deal now would have to work around the uncomfortable reality that Pakistan’s government has long supported the Taliban. In discussions between American and Pakistani officials, the Pakistanis have demanded a variety of restrictions in exchange for the use of a base in the country, and they have effectively required that they sign off on any targets that either the C.I.A. or the military would want to hit inside Afghanistan, according to three Americans familiar with the discussions.

Diplomats are also exploring the option of regaining access to bases in former Soviet republics that were used for the Afghanistan war, although they expect that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia would fiercely oppose this.

🇮🇱 Over 100 organizations sent a letter to President Biden asking him to halt weapons sales to Israel. “Blocking this weapons sale will not change the reality of daily life for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation,” it reads. “Those living in Gaza will continue to suffer from severe shortages of life-saving medicines, food, electricity, and clean water, because of Israel’s illegal military blockade, which makes life unsafe and unbearable. But halting delivery of the weapons would send a clear message that your administration is unwilling to fuel further attacks on civilians in Gaza.”

🇮🇱 Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the Israeli press that selling the UAE F-35s and assassinating Soleimani were important parts of the Abraham Accords. People sometimes refer to this thing as a “peace agreement.”

🌉 I talked to AROC executive director Lara Kiswani about how Bay Area activists successfully blocked an Israeli cargo ship from docking in Oakland:

“At the very end of the afternoon, around 6:00 pm, we got to actually watch the ship leave, which was pretty dramatic. I think it was a great moment for all of us to see the economic and political power of labor and community organizing.”

🇵🇸 I was proud to sign this letter calling for coverage of Palestine to change. Please check it out.

Stay safe out there,


So where are the Palestinian voices in mainstream media?

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