As one of his initial moves as Speaker of the U.S. of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to prevent Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee due to her past criticism of Israel’s aggression against Palestinians. On Wednesday, most House GOP leaders pushed a resolution to remove Omar from the FAC. On the other hand, Democrats resisted the move and alleged that McCarthy exhibited prejudice by singling out the politician – one of only two Muslim women serving in the United States Congress and a former Somali refugee.
Republican members of the House of Representatives who have gained newfound power are planning to remove Representative Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman of Somali descent and Muslim faith, from the House Foreign Affairs Committee due to her previous criticisms of Israel. pic.twitter.com/2A3m13CJgP
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) February 2, 2023
Initially, a few Republicans were hesitant to support McCarthy’s effort, raising questions about this ability to pass the resolution against Omar given the slim GOP majority. However, on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present united in their support for the move, with a vote to proceed. Instead, Democrats remained steadfast in their backing of Omar, with 209 votes. A conclusive vote is balloted for Thursday as progressives come together to stand behind Omar.
CPC Defends Omar
The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has come to the defense of Omar, portraying her as an esteemed and valued member of Congress. CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal stated on Monday that it is unacceptable and dangerous to remove a member from a committee solely based on differing opinions. Jayapal referred to such an action as “absurd and perilous.”
.@IlhanMN is the first African-born congressmember and the only House Foreign Affairs Committee member who’s lived in a refugee camp. It’s shameful that Republicans are trying to remove her after smearing her for years. We need her voice, values, and expertise on the Committee. https://t.co/e1M5ajM0T4
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) January 30, 2023
The Republican Resolution
The resolution to remove Omar, brought forward by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, lists various incidents surrounding her controversial criticisms of Israel and U.S. foreign policy.
In a statement, Max Miller stated, “It’s evident that Congresswoman Omar cannot make impartial decisions on the Foreign Affairs Committee due to her prejudices against Israel and the Jewish community.” Omar countered by stating that there was no validity to the resolution and added, “If not having objectivity is a basis for disqualification from committees, then no one would be eligible to serve on them.”
The Republican resolution charges Omar with anti-Semitism but only cites her comments regarding Israel and not the Jewish community specifically. For instance, the resolution takes issue with Omar’s characterization of Israel as an “apartheid state,” even though numerous leading human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have similarly accused Israel of subjecting Palestinians to apartheid.
Omar Controversy: Accusations of Anti-Semitism Aim to Stifle Debate on Israeli Policies
At the beginning of her tenure in Congress in 2019, Omar faced intense criticism for suggesting that support for Israel in Washington was influenced by political contributions from pro-Israel lobby groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Although Omar later apologized for her statement, advocates for Palestinian rights maintain that allegations of anti-Semitism against critics of Israel serve to suppress discussions surrounding Israeli government policies.
Over the past two years, organizations such as AIPAC and other pro-Israel groups have invested millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressive candidates who advocate for Palestinian human rights, including former House member Andy Levin of Michigan, who holds left-leaning, Jewish views.
Despite the support from the Democratic Party for Omar, the Republican resolution includes previous criticisms against her by prominent Democrats. Lara Friedman, the head of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research organization, stated that Republicans are attempting to legitimize their accusations against Omar by utilizing the remarks and actions of Democrats.
Friedman said that the Democrats are responsible for the situation, as they chose to criticize Omar for political gain. She added that Omar and Tlaib, the other Muslim-American congresswoman, are held to different expectations when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Former President Donald Trump targeted both Omar and Tlaib with racist attacks, with Trump tweeting in 2019 that the two, along with other progressive congresswomen of color, “should return to the damaged and crime-ridden places from which they came.” Omar was particularly singled out as a target for Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric leading up to the 2020 elections, with Trump failing to stop supporters from chanting “send her back” about Omar during a rally in 2019.
Republicans Benefit Politically from Attacks on Omar
According to Friedman, the Republicans can score political points by attacking Omar and appealing to their base with this issue. She explains that when Democrats vote against the resolution tomorrow, Republicans will question why Democrats are not holding Omar accountable for her previous statements, given that they have criticized her in the past. This situation, according to Friedman, is politically advantageous for Republicans.
Omar has responded to the resolution by calling it “pathetic.” Yasmine Taeb has supported her, the legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, who praised Omar’s dedication to a foreign policy focused on human rights.
Rep. @Ilhan is a dedicated member of Congress, a refugee, a fierce fighter for human rights, and she has earned her spot on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Stop the bigotry and seat Rep. Omar.
— Ed Markey (@SenMarkey) January 31, 2023
Yasmine Taeb, the legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praises Omar’s commitment to a human rights-focused foreign policy. Taeb says that Omar is rare in Congress for speaking truth to power and that the House Republican leadership’s efforts to remove her from the committee, despite opposition from within their own party, is a waste of time. According to Taeb, Omar’s criticisms of human rights violations are not limited to Israel but extend to other countries in the Middle East.
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