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Canada needs an Ilhan Omar

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Over the past week in the United States, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has faced heavy and dishonest criticism for daring to speak out against the pro-Israel lobby and in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Palestinian rights.

Not only has Omar faced sustained accusations of anti-semitism for a series of tweets critical of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee's (AIPAC) influence in Washington, but she is now being targeted by an organized campaign that demands her removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and eventually from Congress itself. From Donald Trump to Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who recently denied accusations of anti-semitic tweets himself, everyone has come out to condemn Omar, including members of her own party.

Confronted with unifed pressure from the Democratic leadership, Omar apologized. But she is refusing to back down from her position on Israel, and she shouldn't have to, either. Progressive politicians with a backbone are rather rare, and we need to uplift them. More than that, voters need to keep them in office.

Here in Canada, there has not been a single prominent voice in House of Commons for Palestinian rights, but rather, elected officials take every opportunity to denounce the BDS movement and indirectly, Palestine.

Just last November, while apologizing for Canada's decision to turn away a ship of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust in 1939, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau condemned BDS activism on university campuses.

For people like our Prime Minister who fail to grasp what the BDS movement is about: BDS is a Palestinian-led, non-violent movement that calls for an end to the Israeli occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza, a call that is enshrined in the countless UN resolutions on the topic.

Moreover, the current Liberal government has mirrored the previous Conservative government in its approach to Israel -- one of silence and compliance in face of state violence. Even when the Israeli military shot Tarek Loubani, a Canadian physician who was providing medical care to Palestinian protestors at Gaza's Great March of Return, Trudeau took no concrete actions to support Gaza or hold Israel accountable.

The NDP is not an exception. At the party's convention last year, insiders helped suppress the "Palestine resolution," which proposed measures to ban products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Many NDP MPs have participated in trips to Israel sponsored by Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs and partake in AIPAC conferences.

Even NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, whose leadership campaign included a promise to be more progressive on foreign policy, has remained complacent. Last year, Singh refused to leave the Canada-Israel inter-parliamentary group despite pressure from over 200 party members and activists after more than 130 Palestinians were killed by the Israeli military.

In a political moment where there doesn't seem to be a single prominent voice supporting Palestine on either side of the 49th parallel, Omar's unequivocally pro-Palestine stance is refreshing. Not only has she defied the Democratic status quo in the U.S., she has also broken the illusion that the West, and particularly the U.S., has been neutral on Israel-Palestine. In an interview a few weeks ago, Omar stated "Most of the things that have been aggravating to me is that we have had a policy that makes one [Israel] superior to the other [Palestine]".

In progressive circles, Omar's stance is welcomed after years of enduring politicians who are "PEP", or progressive except Palestine. Slowly but surely, we are witnessing a resurgence of support for Palestine in mainstream politics, such as UK's Leader of Opposition Jeremy Corbyn's opposition to Zionism.

In a world where more progressive leaders are daring to take a tougher stance against Israel, Canada can't afford to fall behind on Trudeau or Singh. If Canada is going to be a progressive leader at the international level, we need stronger and bolder leadership on Palestine. Canada needs an Ilhan Omar -- a prominent progressive voice on Palestine.

Shahroze Khan is a writer, blogger, and a student of Political Science and History. He is also a photographer and his work has been featured in local and national exhibitions in Canada. He can be found instagramming at @shahrozekk. 
Image: Lorie Schaull/Flickr
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