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US: Ilhan Omar removed from foreign affairs committee for 2019 ‘antisemitic’ remarks

The 218-211 vote comes right after Representative Omar's colleagues came to her defence, citing 'Republican racism'
Representative Ilhan Omar at a news conference outside the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on 26 January 2023 (AFP)

Minnesota Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee for her comments criticising Israel in 2019, which she has since long apologised for. 

The vote, in which 218 Republicans voted to remove her and 211 Democrats voted no, took place on Wednesday. It was an effort led by former House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who accused Omar of antisemitism. 

US: Ilhan Omar says Republicans using 'Islamophobia' to oust her from committee
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“My leadership and voice will not diminish if I am not on this committee for one term,” Omar said on the House floor prior to the voting.

“Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American policies?“ she said. 

The Democratic congresswoman, re-elected in November, came under fire from lawmakers, including some in her own party, for a February 2019 tweet that said US support for Israel among politicians was “all about the Benjamins”. She has also opposed US military aid to Israel and is a frequent critic of Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank.

Omar later apologised for her remarks, saying that she was learning about “the painful history of antisemitic tropes”.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out racism within the Republican Party and defended her colleague. In a fiery speech on the House floor, she said: “I think one of the things we should talk about here - also one of the disgusting legacies after 9/11 - has been the targeting and racism of Muslim Americans in the USA. And this has been an extension of that legacy.”

“I had a member of the Republican Caucus threaten my life and you all and the Republican Caucus rewarded him with one of the prestigious committee assignments in Congress,” she said. 

“Don't tell me this is about consistency. Don’t tell me this is about the condemnation of antisemitic remarks when you have a member of the Republican caucus who has talked about Jewish space lasers… This is about targeting women of colour in the USA.”

According to Ayah Ziyadeh, the advocacy director for American Muslims for Palestine, "No member should ever be kicked off of a committee or punished for speaking out in criticism of Israel."

"It's vital for freedom of speech that pro-Palestinian voices can openly express themselves in Congress without fear of retribution. Removing Congresswoman Omar from her committee assignments creates a climate of fear and represses debate.”

Beth Miller, political director at Jewish Voice for Peace Action echoed Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez's argument on the motivations behind the vote.

"Today's vote was yet another example of Republicans cynically weaponising false claims of anti-semitism to attack progressive women of colour who speak out for Palestinian rights," Miller told MEE. 

"I want to be crystal clear: this vote had absolutely nothing to do with fighting anti-semitism or making Jews safer. It was a partisan attack to threaten those who dare to demand that the US start holding the Israeli government accountable for its violations of human rights and apartheid rule over Palestinians.” 

‘I remember what she said about Israel’

In November, McCarthy told the Republican Jewish Committee: “I remember what she said about me. I remember what she said about Israel. I remember what she said about the relationship. I remembered it so much, I promised you last year she would no longer be on foreign affairs. I’m keeping that promise.”

'Speaker McCarthy’s targeting of Ilhan Omar is telling of just how threatened the Republican party is by women of colour who are consistently pushing for change'

- Sara Haghdoosti, executive director of Win Without War

A month later, eight high-profile Jewish organisations, including J Street; the New Israel Fund; the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; and T’ruah said in a joint statement: “We may not agree with some of Congresswoman Omar’s opinions, but we categorically reject the suggestion that any of her policy positions or statements merit disqualification from her role on the committee.”

On the House floor on Wednesday, Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern highlighted the “hypocrisy” within the Republican Party.

“The hypocrisy here is staggering. It literally takes my breath away. Congresswoman Omar has apologised for the things she had said. She has said she wants to be an ally in the fight against antisemitism,” he said.

“She even voted to condemn antisemitism. Every Democrat did as well. Do you know who voted no? Twenty-three Republicans. Twenty-three Republicans voted against condemning antisemitism. Maybe the gentleman can explain whether or not they should be removed from their committees.”

In a statement by Sara Haghdoosti, the executive director of Win Without War, a network of activists and organisations advocating for progressive foreign policy in the US, wrote that she is disgusted.

“We’re disgusted with House Republican leadership efforts to remove Representative Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC). This is a blatant attempt to strip HFAC of a progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo, uplifts the marginalised and reshapes US foreign policy to protect human rights and combat hate,” she said.

“Speaker McCarthy’s targeting of Ilhan Omar is telling of just how threatened the Republican Party is by women of colour who are consistently pushing for change and dare demand not just a say but leadership in decisions that impact their lives.”

According to Hadar Susskind, the president of Americans for Peace Now, “In addition to fanning the flames of Islamophobia in the United States by conflating legitimate criticism of Israel with antisemitism and weaponizing accusations of antisemitism to stifle debate around both American and Israeli policies, this decision undermines the vitally important fight against antisemitism.”

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