One of Kevin McCarthy’s first actions as speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was to try to block Congressman Ilhan Omar from serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee because of her past criticism of Israel.
On February 1 local time, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives proposed a resolution to remove Ilhan Omar from the committee. Democrats opposed the move and accused McCarthy of targeting the former Somali refugee. It should be noted that Ilhan Omar is one of only two Muslim women in the U.S. Congress.
Some Republicans initially objected to McCarthy’s action — they expressed doubts about McCarthy’s ability to pass the resolution against Omar given the narrow Republican majority.
But on Feb. 1, all 218 Republicans in the House voted in favor of the bill, while Democrats remained united, with 209 votes for Omar. A final vote is finally planned for the 2nd, and progressives are expected to rally around Omar.
The Progressive Caucus (CPC) in Congress defended Omar, calling her a “respected and valuable” MP.
“You can’t remove a congressman from a committee just because you don’t agree with him. That’s absurd and dangerous,” said Pramila Jayapal, chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. said in a statement issued on Monday.
Republican Congressman Max Miller of Ohio introduced a resolution targeting Omar on Tuesday, claiming the congressman’s criticism of Israel and U.S. foreign policy had sparked controversy.
“Given Congressman Omar’s prejudice against Israel and the Jewish people, it is clear that she cannot be an objective decision-maker within the Foreign Affairs Committee,” Miller said in a statement.
Omar retorted that there was nothing “objective and truthful” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is the reason for not being able to get into committees, then no one gets into those committees”.
While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of being anti-Semitic, it only cites her comments related to Israel, not Jews.
For example, the bill condemns the lawmaker for referring to Israel as an “apartheid state,” even as major human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, accuse Israel of maintaining apartheid against Palestinians.
Early in Omar’s congressional career in 2019, she argued that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), boosted U.S. support for Israel, when she was confronted fierce criticism.
Omar later apologized for the remarks, but Palestinian rights advocates said the accusations of anti-Semitism against Israeli critics were aimed at stifling debate about Israeli government policy.
Over the past two years, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and other pro-Israel groups have spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including the left-leaning Jewish former House member, Michigan’s Andy Levine.
Although the Democrats currently support Omar, the Republican resolution also reflects criticism of the congresswoman from top Democrats.
Laura Friedman, president of the Middle East Peace Foundation, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to use Democrats’ statements and actions to validate their claims against Omar.
“It’s their responsibility,” she said, referring to Democrats who had previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision over the last few years to gain points in the committee and politics at the expense of Ilhan Omar…now it’s a decision to kick Omar out of the committee Foundation.”
Friedman added that Omar and her Muslim counterpart in Congress, Rashida Tlaib, are believed to hold “different standards” when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Both lawmakers were targets of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump. In 2019, Trump tweeted that they, and other progressive members of Congress of color, “should go back to the broken and crime-ridden places they came from.”
Omar has been a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric ahead of the 2020 election. Trump failed to intervene when his supporters chanted “Send her back” at a rally in 2019.
Friedman said the attack on Omar created a support base for the Republican Party and benefited Republicans politically.
“It’s a very convenient way to embarrass and get Democrats in trouble, because when the Democrats vote against this bill tomorrow, the Republican argument will be: ‘I can’t understand it. You said everything These are bad words for Omar. So why don’t you hold her accountable?’ Politically, it’s just fantastic for them.”
For her part, Omar remains unconvinced, calling McCarthy’s decision to remove her from the committee, despite initial objections from her own caucus, to be “sad.”
Yasmin Tayib, legislative and political director of MPower Action for Change Fund, an American Muslim advocacy group, praised Omar for his commitment to a “human rights-centred foreign policy.”
“Rep. Omar dares to speak truth to power, which is very rare in Congress. The Republican leadership in the House would rather waste time attacking a progressive black Muslim woman and promoting a far-right agenda than trying to solve the problem of the American people. needs,” Taib told Al Jazeera in an email.
Omar has been an outspoken supporter of human rights and diplomacy in the US Congress. While her comments about Israel often grab headlines, she also criticizes human rights abuses in other countries, including those in the Middle East.
Still, critics have accused her of perpetuating an anti-Semitic rhetoric in her criticism of Israel, and even her allies have called some of her remarks “sloppy,” if not malicious.
Win Without War, an organization that promotes diplomacy in U.S. foreign policy, condemned the Republican action against Omar on Tuesday, arguing it was an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of “challenging the political status quo.” progressive fighter and seasoned legislator.”
“Rep. Omar helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress,” Sarah Hagduz, the group’s executive director, said in a statement. Be responsible for our actions and actively confront racism and Islamophobia in U.S. foreign policy.”
The major committees in the U.S. Congress are specialized agencies within Congress. These committees drive legislation, conduct oversight, and wield enormous power over the legislative process.
Normally, the party with the majority of seats will appoint the chairman and the majority of members of the committee, while the opposition party will appoint its own MPs.
But as early as 2021, Democrats voted Republican Congressman Marjorie Taylor-Green out of her committee for her past statements about conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally condemned another far-right Republican, Paul Gosar, for sharing an animated video in which he killed Democratic Rep. Alexander Oka Theo Cortez.
Now, Green is outspoken in favor of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.
Green said earlier this week that “someone with that stance on Israel should not be in the Foreign Affairs Committee” and “in my opinion, any member of the United States Congress would be wrong to take that stance on our great ally Israel. .”
After Green was stripped of his committee duties, McCarthy publicly promised that Republicans would retaliate against Democrats if they became the minority party in the House, which happened in the 2022 midterm elections.
McCarthy said at the time, “You will regret it. You may regret it sooner than you think.”
The newly elected speaker also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Adam Schiff is the past chairman of the committee.
Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is also facing calls to resign for lying about his career and personal history, has “temporarily avoided” a committee appointment while he is being investigated for campaign conduct.