Republicans kick Ilhan Omar off US House foreign affairs panel

Muslim-American legislator says her ‘voice will get louder and stronger’ after vote punishing her criticism of Israel.

Ilhan Omar
Omar co-sponsored a resolution recognising 'Israel as America’s legitimate and democratic ally', but she said her criticism of Israeli policies towards Palestinians has not changed [Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo]

Washington, DC – United States Republicans have removed progressive Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel, drawing rebuke and accusations of bigotry from Democrats.

In a 218-211 vote along party lines, the House passed a resolution on Thursday to strip Omar — a former refugee from Somalia and one of two Muslim women in Congress — of her committee assignment.

Republican lawmakers argued that Omar engaged in “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Israel” rhetoric that disqualified her from serving on the foreign policy panel.

But prior to the vote, Omar suggested that Republicans were targeting her because of her identity.

“There is this idea that you are a suspect if you are an immigrant or if you are from certain parts of the world or a certain skin tone or a Muslim,” Omar said. “It is no accident that members of the Republican Party accused the first Black president, Barack Obama, of being a secret Muslim.”

Omar added that she will be undeterred by the Republican move.

“If I am not on this committee for one term, my voice will get louder and stronger and my leadership will be celebrated around the world as it has been,” the congresswoman said. “So take your votes or not. I am here to stay.”

She vowed to continue to speak up for those suffering from “unjust wars, atrocities, ethnic cleansing, occupation or displacement”.

The White House called the removal of Omar from the committee a “political stunt” and a “disservice to the American people”.

“Congresswoman Omar is a highly respected member of Congress,” White House spokeswoman Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Thursday, noting that Omar had apologised for previous comments relating to Israel.

In 2019, Omar faced bipartisan outrage when for suggesting that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups — including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) — drive support for Israel in Washington. She later disavowed that remark.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights.

While the Republican resolution accused Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invoked remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups — including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch — have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Republican Tennessee Representative David Kustoff accused Omar on Thursday of spreading “hateful beliefs”.

“As our nation’s leaders, we have the ability and the responsibility to help combat anti-Semitism and ensure that our children — tomorrow’s leaders — are taught that such rhetoric is unacceptable,” Kustoff said.

But several Jewish Democrats defended Omar. Dean Phillips — who, like Omar, represents a congressional district in Minnesota — called the Republican push against the congresswoman a “weaponisation of anti-Semitism”, which he said he finds “repulsive” as a Jewish person.

“The most dangerous acts by elected officials in a democracy are to silence voices of dissent, even those with which we fundamentally disagree,” Phillips said on the House floor.

Republicans stressed that the resolution to remove Omar was about accountability, not payback. Democrats had previously removed Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees in 2021 over past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading House progressive, said the targeting of Omar was an extension of the legacy of bigotry against Muslim Americans since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

“There is nothing consistent with the Republican Party’s continued attack except for the racism and incitement of violence against women of colour in this body,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

As Arab, Muslim and Palestinian rights groups rushed to defend Omar before the vote on Thursday, the congresswoman co-sponsored a resolution titled “recognizing Israel as America’s legitimate and democratic ally and condemning antisemitism”.

The measure condemned anti-Semitic tropes of dual loyalty and describes Israel as a “Jewish and democratic state”.

Omar’s office did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on how the congresswoman squared accusing Israel of apartheid while still recognising it as a “democratic” US ally.

“My critique of our foreign policy, Israeli’s policy towards Palestinians or that of any foreign nation will not change,” Omar wrote on Twitter later on Thursday. “As a person who suffered the horrors of war and persecution, my advocacy will always be for those that suffer because of the actions of governments.”

Congressman Brad Schneider, a staunchly pro-Israel Democrat, welcomed Omar’s support for the resolution.

“I have no doubt we will continue to disagree, sometimes vehemently. I will continue to call out antisemitism from wherever it comes, whether my side of the aisle or the other,” Schneider said in a statement.

Source: Al Jazeera