Today I need to take a few minutes to break down a situation that is making headlines across the country and is actually the leading story on several national news sites this morning. And I want to explain why it should matter to our listeners because in some ways it falls outside of our traditional purview of concerns.
As I hope you know by now, this past November was a historic year not just for the number of women elected to Congress, but for the number of people of color elected to Congress – including the largest number of members ever for the Congressional Black Caucus – and this matters in the House – because unlike in the Senate where Cory Booker and Kamala Harris are among the most junior members of the entire body, in the House Black folk have some real juice because of how long many of the members have been elected.
But this morning I particularly want to speak about one of the newest members of the Congressional Black Caucus because she has come under fire and Republicans and Democrats alike have been attacking her over the past few weeks in a way that I don’t know that I have ever seen before.
I’m speaking of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. She’s the first Muslim woman ever elected to Congress. She’s the first Somali refugee ever elected to Congress. She’s the first hijabi woman ever in Congress as well – meaning that she’s the first woman ever in the entire history of Congress to wear a head covering – which they had to rewrite the rules for. And she’s the first refugee ever to be a part of the Congressional Black Caucus.
I’m a huge fan. Having Ilhan Omar in Congress is a gamechanger on so many issues. And one of the things she is known to call out is an issue that I wish all of us understood and called out more often as well – and that’s the horrific mistreatment of Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government. Scholars and human rights experts around the world say that nothing like Palestine has existed in the world since Apartheid in South Africa. And over the past few years, the conditions in Palestine, where supplies and utilities like electricity and water are routinely cut off, are arguably worse than they ever were in South Africa.
Just last week, the United Nations human rights council, as well as respected human rights groups around the world, announced that war crimes were committed by Israel when nearly 200 unarmed protestors were shot and killed by Israeli snipers – including nurses, journalists, and dozens of children. It’s one of the grossest, most violent human rights catastrophes in the world in all of 2018.
But Ilhan Omar has found out what many people have found out, when you criticize Israel, people are quick to call you anti-Semitic or a bigot. And Ilhan Omar is neither of those things. She’s a brilliant, warm, humane woman who understands first hand what it’s like to suffer in place of despair. Perhaps no single person in the entire Congress has her authority to speak on these matters.
Many of our listeners will remember that for decades during South African Apartheid, the United States government actually supported the Apartheid regime and refused to take a stand against Apartheid. That is almost identical to what we have today with Palestine.
But because Ilhan Omar has spoken out fiercely against the human rights abuses there, and has called out people and organizations by name, she’s been labeled as a bigot. And this week even Democrats, led by Nancy Pelosi, said they were going to call for a vote on a statement denouncing Ilhan Omar, which is fundamentally outrageous – particularly considering all of the actual bigots and issues that Congress has never passed such a statement on.
Thankfully, as activists and organizers and a few members of Congress backed Ilhan Omar, it seems today that Pelosi and others are going to stand down, but they’ve made a mess of the entire situation.
And let me close this morning by doubling down on why we should care. First, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar represents us. As a member of the Congressional Black Caucus she fights for our issues daily and she needs our support. But I also want to remind us of Dr. King’s words, which are like a life quote for me, that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” And those aren’t just words, I believe it. The struggles of Palestinians are so much like the struggles of Black folk in America – and when people anywhere in the world are allowed to be mistreated and abused like we see in Palestine – we must speak out and stand in solidarity with them – because the freedom of oppressed people is tied together.
I’ve gotta run, but I’m grateful for Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s bravery and I need us to continue standing with her so that she knows when she speaks out that we have her back. Take care everybody!