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Ilhan Omar comfortably wins re-election race

Muslim-American congresswoman beat well-funded challenger Antone Melton-Meaux who was backed by pro-Israel groups
'Tonight, our movement didn’t just win. We earned a mandate for change,' Omar says (AFP)
By Ali Harb in Washington

Muslim-American Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has comfortably beaten a well-funded primary challenger, securing the nomination for her heavily Democratic district. 

The result on Tuesday night puts Omar on a secure path for a second term in the House of Representatives in a major setback for pro-Israel groups that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for her opponent, Antone Melton-Meaux.

With a 28,000-vote lead, Omar was projected as the winner by the New York Times less than two and a half hours after polls closed.

"In Minnesota, we know that organized people will always beat organized money," the congresswoman wrote on Twitter, declaring victory.

"Tonight, our movement didn’t just win. We earned a mandate for change. Despite outside efforts to defeat us, we once again broke turnout records."

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'Americans want bold, progressive leaders like Ilhan in Congress, and together we will create a nation that works for all'

- Senator Bernie Sanders

She said the win is not about her, but is a boost to the progressive ideas she has championed during her first two years in Congress.

"It’s about standing up to a president who promised to ban an entire group of people from this country based solely on their Muslim identity, calls our countries of origin ‘shithole countries,’ and threatened to send us back to where we came from," she wrote referring to Donald Trump.

"It’s about standing up for the basic human rights around the world - and fighting a military-industrial complex that opposes the recognition of people’s humanity and dignity."

'A new era'

Omar's victory comes a week after her fellow Muslim Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib won her primary with ease. 

Pro-Israel groups had been dealt a blow early in the congressional primary season when progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman beat Congressman Eliot Engel. 

In Missouri last week, Cori Bush also defeated Congressman William Lacy Clay who had attacked the progressive challenger over her support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

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Beth Miller, government affairs manager at JVP Action, a political advocacy group linked to Jewish Voice for Peace, said the recent results show that we are in "a new era of American politics" when it comes to Israel-Palestine. 

"The unapologetic demand for justice and liberation for all people, including Palestinians, is becoming the new norm," Miller told MEE. 

"This election cycle, anti-Palestinian groups spent millions on racist and Islamophobic fear-mongering trying to defeat Rashida and Ilhan. 

"But these tired tactics are failing. Tonight, the Palestinian rights movement celebrates the defence of every single one of its incumbent champions, as well as incoming squad members like Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush. This is how change happens."

Omar faced accusations of antisemitism early on in her congressional career after suggesting that support for Israel in Washington is driven by campaign donations from lobbies like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

She eventually apologised for the comment, but stood by her criticism of the role of money in politics.

Over the past two years, she has been an advocate for Palestinian human rights in the House. Last year, she introduced a bill asserting the constitutional right to boycott in an effort to push back against anti-BDS laws. 

And recently she signed on to a letter vowing to impose conditions on US aid to Israel because of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

'Leader of incredible courage'

Melton-Meaux, a mediation lawyer who was not well-known before the election, managed to raise more than $4m additionally to money spent by conservative-leaning PACs that backed him against Omar.

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Omar's supporters were quick to point out that she did not only beat the challenger, but she also managed to significantly increase her voting tally from the 2018 primary despite the money spent against her.

Two years ago, Omar won a multi-candidate primary with around 65,000 votes. By the end of Tuesday she had about 91,000 votes with absentee ballots still counting. 

An outspoken hijab-wearing Black Muslim woman, Omar has been a frequent target of attacks by Trump and his Republican allies, who often misrepresent her statements to stir outrage within their ranks. 

Congratulatory messages poured in for Omar after the results were announced.

Senator Bernie Sanders called Omar a "leader of incredible courage".

"Americans want bold, progressive leaders like Ilhan in Congress, and together we will create a nation that works for all," Sanders wrote on Twitter.

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