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  • Ilhan Omar has established herself as the most progressive among the U.S. political leaders.

    Ilhan Omar has established herself as the most progressive among the U.S. political leaders. | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 June 2019

The Congress freshman Ilhan Omar taking on the U.S. political establishment one issue at a time. 

U.S. Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has come under attack by the United States ruling elite on both sides of the political aisle over her bold progressives stands on controversial topics in U.S. politics ranging from migration, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, foreign interventions and other social and political policies.

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She has been criticized by right-wing politicians, centrists democrats as well as Islamists equally for her progressive stance on different issues.

From criticizing U.S. intervention in Venezuela to AIPAC’s influence in internal politics to supporting LGBTI rights, Omar has been pro-people.

teleSUR brings forth a list of 10 issues on which Ilhan Omar took a progressive stand creating a rupture in the U.S. political establishment.

1. Speaking out against intervention in Venezuela

In February, the representative said she completely opposes the idea of U.S. intervention into Venezuela while rejecting the self-declared interim president, Juan Guaido, who had illegally declared himself the country's leader in violation of the country's constitution. 

She also pointed out that the “humanitarian aid” sent by the U.S. is an invasion in disguise. “We’re sending humanitarian aid that is in the guise of, you know, eventually invading this country and the people of the country don’t want us there,” Omar said.

A few months later in May, she also spoke out against the economic sanctions in Venezuela.

“A lot of the policies we have put in place have helped lead the devastation in Venezuela. And we’ve set the stage for where we’re arriving today," Omar said and adding that "this particular bullying and the use of sanctions to eventually intervene and make regime change really does not help the people of countries like Venezuela and it certainly does not help and is not in the interest of the United States.”

2. Criticizing AIPAC

Ilhan Omar became one of the few progressive lawmakers in the United States Congress to come under attack for criticizing Israel’s overt influence on U.S. politics in comments she made in February.

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She suggested that members of U.S. Congress support Israel because of money they receive from the pro-Israel lobbying groups, sparking a Twitter storm. She tweeted that support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins” i.e., Benjamin Franklin whose image appears on US$100 bill.

She was called an anti-semite for her criticisms which also included the mounting influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC is the most influential pro-Israel lobby group in the U.S. and holds a mammoth influence in the politics and policies of the country. In 2018, AIPAC spent more than US$3.5 million in lobbying for pro-Israel measures.

3. Condemning Isreali brutality on Palestinians

"How many more protesters must be shot, rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends? The status quo of occupation and humanitarian crisis in Gaza is unsustainable. Only real justice can bring about security and lasting peace," Ilhan Omar wrote on the last Gaza attacks.

This was not the first time she had spoken up against Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

In February, Omar and her colleague Rashida Tlaib openly supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The movement launched more than a decade ago and modeled on the 1960s movement to pressure South Africa over apartheid, calls for people and groups to severe economic, cultural and academic ties to Israel, and to support sanctions against the Jewish state.

More recently, in an op-ed on The Washington Post, Omar wrote that Israel is also a homeland for Palestinians.

She wrote that the Jewish people found Israel 70 years ago as there was an “urgency of establishing a nation in the wake of the horror of the Holocaust and the centuries of antisemitic oppression leading up to it… We must acknowledge that this is also the historical homeland of Palestinians.”

4. Holding the NRA accountable for gun violence

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar last week held the National Rifle Association (NRA) accountable for gun violence after a shooting in Virginia Beach municipal center in Virginia, United States.

The Friday mass shooting which killed 12 people, was carried out by a man named DeWayne Craddock. According to the police, he was a disgruntled city engineer and co-worker of most of the victims.

“I am outraged and heartbroken. How much longer will we ignore the pain of our communities? We need to immediately confront the power of the NRA and end the epidemic of gun violence in this country,” the congresswoman wrote on Twitter.

Omar had also criticized the NRA in the past. In February, after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, the congresswoman said the NRA is the “true enemy” and the only thing that will ensure the safety of people in the country is “sensible gun laws.”

5. Supporting women’s abortion rights

In May, Ilhan Omar asked women to stand up and speak up for their rights amid a surge in right-wing anti-abortion bills across the country's states.

“So today I ask every woman in this country, no matter her age, her race, her political affiliation to stand with me, to stand with us, to stand up and tell those who challenge our voice, and our place, and our right to decide for ourselves to not be silent, to speak up, and to reclaim their right to choose,” Ilhan Omar said speaking on the floor of the House of Representatives a week after Alabama passed a blanket abortion bill even in the cases of rape or incest.

She slammed the laws by saying that this is a way to “criminalize women for simply existing” and rejecting attempts to be controlled by society.

Omar also said when the “so-called religious politicians” talk about freedom and choice when the issue is their own lives but brings in religion to control others.

6. Speaking up for LGBTQI community

Omar co-sponsored a Minnesota bill to ban gay conversion therapy. She called the conversion therapy “torture” and should not be a legal practice anywhere.

In May she condemned the Sultan of Brunei for introducing the death penalty for LGBTQI community. She also introduced legislation that would prevent Brunei officials from conducting business with the U.S.

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The Brunei Human Rights Act would not allow government officials from the South East Asian country to travel to the U.S. or conduct any business with the North American country.

“These laws are anathema to our values as humans, and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms,” Omar said. “The new statutes will violate the human rights of women, children, and the LGBTQ+ community. This brutality runs counter to universal values of respect for human rights and freedom for people to worship and love however they choose.”

She received flak from right-wing Islamists for supporting the LGBTQI people. 

7. Supporting legalizing Marijuana

The former Somali refugee wants the U.S.  to legalize marijuana at a federal level. Cannabis has been legalized in more than half the country mainly for medical use but it is still outlawed by the federal government.

She does not only want the legalization of weed but also endorses the clearing of criminal records for those imprisoned on charges related to marijuana possession and minor offenses. 

"Cannabis criminalization disproportionately impacts communities of color. We must finally legalize cannabis nationwide and expunge records for those incarcerated for cannabis-related offenses,” Omar wrote on Twitter.

Research by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that between 2001 and 2010, Black people were more vulnerable to arrests and marijuana-related charges than white people despite being used by a similar number of people in both groups.

8. Confronting Elliot Abrams

Elliott Abrams, the convicted war criminal and the man U.S. President Donald Trump appointed to lead his regime change ambitions in Venezuela, was confronted by Ilhan Omar in February a U.S. Congress hearing. 

She said, she "failed to understand" why people in the U.S. should believe Special Envoy Elliott Abrams' interests in Venezuela, after his involvement in the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s, and the internal conflict in Central America during the Reagan administration.

She then evoked El Mozote massacre, in which U.S.-trained Salvadoran soldiers killed over 800 civilians in 1981, when the internal conflict was raging — a conflict which Abrams later called a “fabulous achievement.”

“Yes or no,” Omar asked Abrams. “Do you think that massacre was a fabulous achievement, that happened under our watch?”

During the Reagan administration, Abrams assured military aid to the Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who came to power after a coup in 1982 and was later sentenced for genocide against the Mayan peoples in the Central American country. He was also convicted in 1991 on two misdemeanor counts of withholding information from Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal. However, he was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush.

“Yes or no,” Omar continued. “Would you support an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, crimes against humanity, or genocide, if you believe they were serving U.S. interests, as you did in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua?”

Abrams was also one of the masterminds behind the 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and 2007 against Hamas that lead to the civil war between the two biggest Palestinian factions, the repercussions of which continue to be felt to this day.

9. Slamming Trump and Obama’s immigration policies

Ilhan Omar is known to be a strong critic of Trump’s immigration policies. However, she also slammed Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama over his controversial immigration policies.

As a Somali migrant, Omar is directly involved with policies that Obama implemented and now Trump has kept on. Thus, as the progressive lawmaker states “we can’t be only upset with Trump.”

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It was under the Obama administration that the family separation and “caging of children” began. In 2014, as the violence in Central America rose, thousands of migrants reached the U.S.- Mexico Border. More than 60,000 family units - as the U.S. government defines a parent and child - were stopped only in the 2014 fiscal year, a fourfold increase from 2013.

Omar said that Obama’s policies were presented in a more polished way than Trump’s but “We don’t want anybody to get away with murder because their policies are polished,” the representative said.

She equally criticized Trump's Muslim ban and the recently proposed merit-based immigration policy

“A “merit-based” immigration policy is fueled by racism toward the Latinx community. Our immigration policies shouldn’t be based on discrimination, fear, or bigotry. We should welcome immigrants to our country and offer a simple pathway to citizenship,” wrote Omar on Twitter.

10. Progressive Economic Policies

One of the most under-reported progressive stances of Omar is her take on economic policies.

On her website, Ilhan talked about raising workers’ wage, access to benefits, having a good healthcare policy, education, etc. “The wealthiest of our country have accumulated their wealth through a system that keeps people in poverty,” the statement says.

Her proposed economic reform policies would see the betterment of living conditions of workers; creation of federal jobs guarantee program; holding wall street accountable; creating a fair, progressive tax system.

Omar also spoke out against the gender pay gap.

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