The Palestinian resistance organization Hamas has hit back at US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar after she accused the group of crimes against humanity, denounced it as “terrorist” and praised Israel as “democratic.”
Omar has been under intense attack for days by Democratic and Republican lawmakers over her questioning of Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
During a congressional hearing on Monday, Omar took Blinken to task for American opposition to International Criminal Court investigations into alleged crimes by Israel and Hamas in the West Bank and Gaza and by the US and the Taliban in Afghanistan.But in the exchange with Blinken, Omar claimed that Hamas has committed “atrocities” and “crimes against humanity” – accusations that do not withstand a fact-based analysis of the recent escalation of violence.
Omar’s remarks were “very peculiar,” Dr. Basem Naim, a member of Hamas’ international relations office, said on Saturday.
Naim said Hamas “highly appreciates Omar’s stances in support of justice and the rights of the oppressed around the world, foremost among them is the just rights of the Palestinian people.”
However, he added, “it is unacceptable to make such an unfair comparison, which contradicts basic norms of justice and international law.”Hamas admonished Omar for equating “the victim and the executioner” by placing “the resistance of the Palestinian people, the Israeli crimes in Palestine and the US aggression in Afghanistan” on “an equal footing.”
Naim said that Palestinians “have the right to resist the Israeli occupation with all means possible, including armed resistance.” He quoted Nelson Mandela’s statement that “it is always the oppressor, not the oppressed, who dictates the form of the struggle.”
The late Mandela led the African National Congress’ armed struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
Now almost universally viewed as a hero, he was on an official US list of “terrorists” until as late as 2008.
Naim asserted that for years, Hamas has “offered several initiatives to avoid civilian casualties.” But “all of these proposals were rejected by the Israeli occupation, which deliberately targeted civilians and civilian infrastructure,” including during Israel’s 11-day intense bombardment of Gaza last month.
This is likely a reference to longstanding Hamas proposals for a long-term truce that Israel has rejected.
“The deliberate and brutal targeting of Palestinian civilians during this aggression was intended to inflict a heavy cost on the Gazan population in a bid to break the Palestinians’ will and their support for the Palestinian resistance,” Naim said of last month’s escalation.
Hamas, according to Naim’s statement, “welcomed the formation of all international investigation commissions and expressed its readiness to cooperate with them for the sake of achieving justice and holding the perpetrators accountable.”
In contrast, Israel habitually rejects any international investigation of its actions and blocks investigators from entering all of the territories under its control.
As this writer argued, the violence committed by Israel and the US in pursuit of domination and empire is vastly greater in scale than that used by Hamas in the context of an occupied people exercising its right to resistance and self-defense.
Omar caves to pressure
Yet Omar came under a storm of protest – including racist and bigoted attacks – from Israel supporters and white supremacist American nationalists who believe that colonial and imperial violence is morally justified while Palestinian armed struggle is “terrorism.”Omar caved under apparent pressure from the leadership of her Democratic Party.
On Thursday, she issued a “clarification” asserting that the exchange with Blinken days earlier was “about accountability for specific incidents regarding those ICC cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel.”
“I was in no way equating terrorist organizations with democratic countries with well-established judicial systems,” she added.
Not content with accusing Palestinians of “atrocities” and “crimes against humanity” against the state occupying and colonizing their land, Omar threw in the label “terrorist” – reproducing and reinforcing decades-old Israeli propaganda.
Meanwhile, she appeared to be describing Israel as a “democratic” country, despite the recent findings by such mainstream groups as Human Rights Watch and Israel’s human rights group B’Tselem that Israel commits the crime of apartheid against the Palestinian people.
Omar’s decision to throw Palestinians under the bus appeared to satisfy House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Pelosi, one of the most hardline supporters of Israel in the Democratic Party, had rejected Omar’s “drawing false equivalencies between democracies like the US and Israel and groups that engage in terrorism like Hamas and the Taliban.”
She claimed that such a comparison “foments prejudice and undermines peace and security for all.”
“We welcome the clarification by Congresswoman Omar that there is no moral equivalency between the US and Israel and Hamas and the Taliban,” Pelosi added.
Omar’s rapid collapse in the face of pressure raises serious questions about the role of supposed supporters of Palestinian rights within the US political system.
The Minnesota congresswoman – one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress, along with Rashida Tlaib – has been using her rhetorical support for Palestinians to raise election campaign money.
The racist attacks have also made her the center of advocacy by liberal and progressive groups and individuals who have rallied around her, many using the hashtag #IStandWithIlhan.
Palestinian American activist and human rights attorney Noura Erakat offered the congresswoman unqualified support in the face of the attacks. Omar “insists on repping her constituents” and “refuses to be a token,” Erakat tweeted.
“She came to slay and we must help her.”Thus the right-wing Democratic and Republican attacks on Omar succeeded in shifting the attention away from accountability for Israel’s massacres of Palestinians and towards a narcissistic internal squabble among US political figures and elites in which the rejection and demonization of Palestinian resistance is taken as a given.
At the same time, the damage done to Palestinians by Omar’s comments echoing Israeli propaganda that resistance is “terrorist” is overlooked or excused because she is under attack from the right.Palestinians have fought for decades against propaganda demonizing virtually any form of resistance as “terrorist.” That label is intended to shut down debate and analysis, disrupt solidarity and provide justification for Israel’s regular colonial massacres of Palestinian civilians.
For advocates of Palestinian rights to accept such rhetoric from a supposed ally sends a signal that any fundamental principle is a mere bargaining chip to be used in pursuit of illusory gains and alliances with members of the US imperial establishment.
There can be no question that Omar deserves to be defended against racist and anti-Muslim attacks and threats – just as President Barack Obama deserved to be defended against such attacks from white supremacists who falsely claimed he was Muslim to disparage him or questioned the country of his birth.
Similarly, one can take a principled stance against racist attacks on Omar, while rejecting her anti-Palestinian comments aimed at appeasing Israel’s insatiable American fanatics inside and outside her party.