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EDITORIAL: The recent uproar over comments made by Ilhan Omar, the first ever Muslim congresswoman (D-Minn.), confirms, once again, that when it comes to Israel speech is not free in the world's so-called oldest democracy. After participating in the House Foreign Affairs Committee discussion with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken regarding International Criminal Court (ICC) investigations, she had posted a tweet saying "we must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban", adding that "I asked [Blinken] where people are supposed to go for justice." It was a perfectly legitimate concern considering that both the US and Israel refuse to recognise the ICC jurisdiction, where last March the court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced initiation of an investigation "respecting the situation in Palestine", which is to cover crimes committed since June 13, 2014.

Ilhan faced severe criticism not only from Hasbara trolls but also a group of 12 Jewish Democratic lawmakers who signed a letter of protest saying "equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided". They accused her of "false equivalencies that give cover to terrorist groups." The issue was settled after Ilhan offered a nuanced statement explaining that "the conversation was about accountability for specific incidents regarding those [ICC] cases, not a moral comparison between Hamas and the Taliban and the US and Israel." That clarification may have gotten Israel's sympathisers and supporters off her back, allowing her to keep her seat on the important Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Representatives for now. As regards the argument that equating the US and Israel to Hamas and Taliban is misguided it holds true, though, in an entirely converse reality. During the last two decades, using false pretexts the US has waged wars in Iraq, Syria and Libya causing unspeakable death and destruction in those countries. Indeed, the Taliban in Afghanistan made a mistake in hosting Osama bin Laden; they also committed atrocities against their own people. Yet America's 'forever war' in that unfortunate country and misadventures in others have claimed more lives than Al Qaeda, its affiliated terrorist groups, and Taliban put together. The US may have declared Hamas as a terrorist organisation, but under UN Charter and international law it is within its rights to resist Israeli occupation - modern history's longest occupation along with that of Jammu and Kashmir by India. By no stretch of imagination resistance to occupation can be termed terrorism. Those who accuse the critics of Israel's relentless aggression in the Palestinian territories of anti-Semitism do that to give cover to its crimes against humanity.

The impunity with which Israel has been committing bloody repression is beginning to cause unease in the US as well. After its latest attempt at a land grab in Sheikh Jarrah district of East Jerusalem drew reaction from Hamas and Israeli military killed more than 200 people in Gaza, many of them children, a group of progressive members of the Democratic party moved a resolution, albeit unsuccessfully, calling for a stop to nearly $ 3 billion annual grant to the Zionist state. Many prominent commentators are also beginning to see Israel as an apartheid state - a complete anathema to civilised sensibilities. But as the experience of the Representative from Minnesota shows, America's domestic politics still disallows any public censure of that rogue state.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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