Ilhan Omar backs Israel lobby campaign against Iran

Woman holds microphone with one hand and gestures with the other

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has been the target of vicious smears for criticizing AIPAC, but is now backing the Israel lobby group’s campaign against Iran. (Gage Skidmore)


In an unexpected move, Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has reportedly signed on to a letter circulated by AIPAC, the powerful Israel lobby group on Capitol Hill.

According to the publication Al-Monitor, the AIPAC-backed letter is aimed at “bolstering the Donald Trump administration’s efforts to extend the United Nations arms embargo on Iran.”

That embargo is set to expire in October as part of the 2015 multinational deal in which Iran placed limits on its civilian nuclear energy program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Instigated by American hardliners as well as Israel and its lobby, the Trump administration reneged on and withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018.

Since then, the US has ramped up sanctions on Iran, even amid the coronavirus pandemic, inflicting immense suffering on its population.

Among other impacts, the sanctions cause shortages of medicines, leading to avoidable deaths of sick people.

Rather than peacefully resolving international disputes, America’s ruling right wing, and Israel and its hardline lobby, want to see Iran destroyed by sanctions, and if necessary war, to stop the country becoming an effective check on American and Israeli regional dominance.

Under the cover of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel is escalating its direct attacks against Iran-allied forces in Syria.

Protecting empire

In other words, Omar has signed on to a letter whose goal is to preserve and protect American empire and shore up its reactionary and undemocratic client states in the region.

The letter endorsed by Omar asserts that “Iran’s illicit transfers of weapons directly contribute to some of the most destabilizing threats to the United States and our partners in the Middle East such as Israel and the Gulf States.”

The letter also calls for sanctions against Esmail Ghanni, the Iranian general who replaced Qasem Soleimani as head of the country’s Revolutionary Guard. General Soleimani was extrajudicially executed in an American air attack on his convoy in Iraq in January.

Soleimani was on a mission to promote a peaceful rapprochement among regional powers at the time he was killed, according to Iraq’s prime minister.

Under Soleimani’s military leadership, Iran played a key role in defeating ISIS, as well as al-Qaida-linked groups, in Iraq and Syria.

Israel, the United States and certain Gulf states armed and financed al-Qaida in Syria, helping to spawn ISIS, which at one point threatened to occupy Baghdad.

Omar’s signature is all the more baffling, given her forceful criticisms of US sanctions policy against various countries.

AIPAC still influential

According to AIPAC, Omar is among almost 400 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives, demonstrating that despite some erosion in its influence, especially among Democrats, AIPAC can still pull its weight.

In February, Congresswoman Betty McCollum – like Omar a Democrat from Minnesota – denounced AIPAC as a “hate group.” This was perhaps the harshest public criticism of the lobby organization ever uttered by a sitting member of Congress.

AIPAC also waged war against Senator Bernie Sanders, when the progressive standard bearer was seeking the Democratic Party’s 2020 presidential nomination.

Ilhan Omar had endorsed Sanders.

Based on Sanders’ foreign policy record, Columbia University professor Joseph Massad has termed the Vermont senator a “soft imperialist,” a description that could well apply to Omar.

“While the AIPAC letter has some support from some other progressive lawmakers, many other prominent left-wing members have not signed on, including the rest of Omar’s self-styled ‘squad’ – Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts,” Al-Monitor notes.

Inconsistent on embargoes

There’s no statement on Omar’s official website explaining her signature. However, her office told Al-Monitor that Omar “has consistently, for a long time, supported arms embargoes against human rights abusers.”

Her office added that her signature does not mean she “supports [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo’s tactics or that her position on sanctions has changed, or that she is not in support of the [nuclear deal]. It was just a narrow ask that we couldn’t find anything wrong with.”

It is remarkably naive of such a usually astute politician to think that such purported nuances will cut any ice.

The only headline that her signature is generating – especially in Israeli media – is that she’s backing AIPAC’s position.

And while Omar has signed on to legislation sponsored by McCollum calling for military aid to be withheld from Israeli army units that abuse Palestinian children, she has not called for a total arms embargo on Israel.

Instead of backing a blanket ban on weapons sales to Israel, Omar has advocated for the United States to use the billions in military aid it gives Israel annually as “leverage” to “bring about peace.”

Omar does however support the Palestinian-led grassroots boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to pressure Israel to end its abuses.

To her credit, Omar has also been a strong critic of the US-backed, Saudi-led war on Yemen.

In February 2019, she signed a letter condemning how US weapons supplied to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have ended up in the hands of al-Qaeda-linked groups in Yemen.

Yet the AIPAC letter signed by Omar implicitly supports the ongoing war on Yemen. It asserts that Iran “routinely violates” the UN-imposed arms embargo, “particularly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.”

Alleged Iranian influence in Yemen is one of the main justifications for the ongoing war.

The combined death toll from fighting and disease caused by the US-backed war on Yemen is estimated to have exceeded 230,000 people by the end of 2019.

Omar, it should be recalled, was last year the target of a vicious smear campaign falsely labeling her an anti-Semite after she made mild and accurate observations about AIPAC’s outsize influence on US politics.

Note: This article has been updated since initial publication to add a link to AIPAC’s list of lawmakers who have signed the letter.




Are you NOT shocked? I am and I'd like to know with whom she's been kibitzing.


Hi Liz, it’s disappointing but that does not make it untrue. Please see my response to David Reardon below. Thanks!


I am a political and financial supporter of Electronic Intifada. Good morning. The first line of your article is " Ilhan Omar has reportedly signed on to a letter". Then "In other words, Omar has signed on(WHAT OTHER WORDS?) "according" to Al Monitor. Then "endorsed (NOT SIGNED) bu Omar".
" a description that could well apply to Omar", or could not. I know about AIPAC. I know about Soleimani. This is supposed to be an article about Omar. "There’s no statement on Omar’s official website explaining her signature." and "Yet the AIPAC letter signed by Omar"-these contradict your opinion statement where you said "reportedly". Do you KNOW or not that she signed the letter?


Hi David. Thanks for your comment. I understand your concern. Omar has not issued any statement, as far as I can tell, however lawmakers don’t issue statements about every letter they sign. However it’s clear she signed the letter. First of all, her office confirmed that to Al-Monitor, and that quote is in my article. Second, she appears on AIPAC’s list of lawmakers who have signed the letter.


Ok. With respect and fairplay to you. Then why did you begin your article with "reportedly"instead of just making a simple declarative statement?


Why would she do this?


Wait this is a United Nations Embargo extension. Not that I have any fate in the UN. Could she have been deceived into signing this? not knowing that it was backed by AIPAC? Still I am chocked regardless of AIPAC or not.


"In other words, Omar has signed on to a letter whose goal is to preserve and protect American empire and shore up its reactionary and undemocratic client states in the region." -- If you are Democratic politician you must and will support the American empire and its wars. The Democrats, like the Republicans, are just another flavor of capitalism and imperialism.


I guess Ms. Omar finally figured out how things work in the USA. It is also noteworthy that AOC has learned her lesson and is now silent on the Question of Palestine.


Her action is very confused, but don't forget there's an election in November. She wants to see a Democrat President and who know what her ambitions are. This looks like a typical politician's ploy. It's unfortunate, but we have to learn not to trust professional politicians. They have to be judged by their actions and we should never project onto them our values without reservation. Democracy doesn't look like what we have in the so-called West. It looks like people making choices for themselves. Politicians are rarely frank. Their ambition gets in the way. Those of us without personal political ambitions can stand by our values through thick and thin; they are always calculating. This has all the typical hallmarks of calculation. That said, there is no need to over-compensate and dismiss her. Like all of them, she must be judged action by action and held to account in the same way. Yet we must be clear-eyed about US politics. The media choose the President, the Senators, the Congressmen and women. Sanders is as radical as you can get in the present circumstances. Far better than Trump or Biden of course, but still unable to be frank over Israel/Palestine. As for the UK. The new Labour leader calls himself " a Zionist without qualification". Presumably that means he agrees with Chaim Weizmann that there is "a qualitative difference between a Jew and an Arab" and with Yitzhak Shamir's view that "neither Jewish ethics nor Jewish tradition can disqualify terrorism". Utterly dismal. The answers lies with us. Democracy is government by the people not by the elected representatives. We have to elaborate the values of universal equal rights and fight to ensure the representatives enact them. That means facing down slipshod actions like this and the confused thinking behind it. US foreign policy is the greatest threat to world peace and has been for a long time. War with Iran is perfectly possible. We must ensure it doesn't happen. People power, not politician power.