Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s bill, Combating International Islamophobia Act, passed the US House by a 219-212 margin. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, this was a party-line vote.

Democrats at last felt compelled to move following Congresswoman Lauren Boebert’s racist attacks on Omar who is Black and Muslim.

Boebert has falsely and viciously indicated that Omar is a terrorist and suicide bomber.

In response, Omar noted: “To date, the Republican Party leadership has done nothing to condemn and hold their own members accountable for repeated instances of anti-Muslim hate and harassment. This is not about one hateful statement or one politician; it is about a party that has mainstreamed bigotry and hatred.”

Also last month, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley introduced a resolution to take Boebert’s committee assignments from her. 

Omar’s bill is supported by President Joe Biden and now just needs Senate approval. But the Senate is closely contested and Democrats in recent weeks have been unable to overcome objections to crucial legislation from Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. If approved, however, Omar’s bill would put in place a special envoy to combat Islamophobia.

The bill, for example, would require the Department of State’s annual reports to Congress to include descriptions of “acts of physical violence against, or harassment of, Muslim people, and acts of violence against, or vandalism of, Muslim community institutions, including schools, mosques, and cemeteries; instances of propaganda in government and nongovernment media that attempt to justify or promote hatred or incite violence against Muslim people, and actions taken by a [foreign] country’s government to respond to such acts.”

It is no surprise that Democrats added language to the bill stating that “No funds made available pursuant to the bill may be used to promote or endorse a boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement ideology” (i.e., economic measures against Israel or Israel-related individuals or organizations). Indeed, the Israeli state has been rooted in Islamophobia since its inception in 1948, and Islamophobia plays a key role in building and sustaining U.S. public and government backing of Israel. Consider the Islamophobic tropes (i.e. equating Islam with terrorism) that are promoted by Israeli and U.S. government and media rhetoric.  Also consider the involvement of strands of the pro-Israeli Zionist movement in the U.S. with the Islamophobia industry. A Center for American Progress report reveals that seven major Islamophobia industry donors gave nearly 11 million dollars to Israel related causes.

While standing against Islamophobia on the one hand, rank and file Democrats tend to strongly support Israeli ethnic cleansing and violence against Palestinians on the other, including the systematic silencing of support for the struggle for Palestinian freedom and the movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions on Israel.  

Schakowsky’s stances exemplify the hypocrisy of many Democrats who stand against Islamophobia while standing with Israeli state violence against Palestinians. This is why Hatem Abudayyeh of the United States Palestinian Community Network.

(USPCN) in Chicago says that she, like many of her colleagues in Congress, are progressive except for Palestine. Her hypocritical politics are especially evidenced by her ongoing refusal to co-sign U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum’s (D-MN-4) H.R.2590 (Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act).  H.R. 2590 is the only current U.S. legislation that would prohibit Israel from using U.S. taxpayer dollars on “the military detention, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention; to support the seizure and destruction of Palestinian property and homes in violation of international humanitarian law; or on any support or assistance for Israel’s unilateral annexation of Palestinian territory in violation of international humanitarian law.”

During the summer of 2021, the USPCN mobilized a coalition of racial justice organizations to demand Schakowsky sign H.R. 2590. Six months later, their struggle continues. The USPCN is also currently demanding she sign H.R.751, which condemns “the repressive designation by the government of Israel of six prominent Palestinian human rights and civil society groups as terrorist organizations, and for other purposes.”

Overall, the Illinois representatives’ opposition to Islamophobia is positive, though the legislation is focused on “foreign” Islamophobia. Indeed, anti-Muslim racism is also growing domestically and “foreign” and “domestic” Islamophobia are rooted in the same cause, the U.S. war on terror (including U.S. military and economic support for Israel).

Furthermore, it is time for Democrats to be consistent in their stance against Islamophobia. Promoting an end to Islamophobia while promoting Israel is not only deceptive, but it also covers up the deeply rooted anti-Muslim racism the U.S. and Israel stand upon and thereby reinforces it. 

On January 19, Israel demolished yet another Palestinian home in the Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, displacing even more Palestinians. Israeli police, with dozens of heavily armed special forces, showed up to this Palestinian family’s home at 3:00 am with a bulldozer and intensive machinery.  Israel justifies the ongoing evictions in Sheikh Jarrah through Islamophobic rhetoric that conflates Palestinian efforts to protect their homes with terrorism.

I hope Israel’s latest escalation in demolishing homes and repressing Palestinian human rights advocates will inspire Democrats to re-examine their complicity in the Islamophobia they claim to condemn.

I especially hope Representative Jan Schakowsky will commit to a more principled stance in relation to Illinois’ historic Palestinian community, a target of anti-Muslim racism in her own backyard. Chicago’s U.S. Palestinian Community Network has exposed her hypocrisy. The ball is in her court to sign on to H.R.2590 and H.R.751 and practice what she preaches.

Nadine Naber is Professor of Gender and Women’s Studies and Global Asian Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). At UIC, she is the founding director of The Arab American Cultural Center.

Dr. Naber has served as an editorial board member of the Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP).

Nadine Naber is Professor of Gender and Women's Studies and Global Asian Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). At UIC, she is the founding director of the The Arab American Cultural Center.

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