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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel | Politics News

Washington – In one of his first moves after becoming Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading efforts to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s membership on the House Foreign Affairs Committee because of her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives moved a resolution to remove Omar from the commission. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of fanaticism over the attack on the politician, a former Somali refugee who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

Several Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s efforts, questioning his ability to pass a resolution against Omar given the GOP’s thin majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move the measure forward, as Democrats remain united in backing Omar with 209 votes. The final vote is expected on Thursday, when the progressives rally around Omar.

The Congressional Progressive Group (CCP) defended Omar, calling her a “respected and invaluable” lawmaker.

“You can’t remove a member of Congress from a committee just because you don’t agree with his views. This is both ridiculous and dangerous,” CCP Chairman Pramila Jayapal said on Monday.


The resolution against Omar, introduced on Tuesday by Ohio Republican Max Miller, refers to the controversy surrounding the congressman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee, given her prejudice against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar countered, stating that there was nothing “objectively true” in the resolution, adding that “if bias is a reason not to serve on committees, no one will sit on committees.”

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only contains remarks regarding Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the document calls on a congressman to characterize Israel as an “apartheid state,” although leading human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, also accuse Israel of imposing an apartheid system on the Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced fiery criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobbying groups, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), were helping to support Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologized for the remark, but Palestinian rights activists say the accusations of anti-Semitism against critics of Israel are intended to stifle debate over Israeli government policies.

Over the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organizations have spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat Palestinian human rights progressives, including Michigan’s Andy Levine, a left-leaning Jewish former House of Representatives member.

“Different Standards”

While the Democratic Party is now behind Omar, the GOP resolution prominently contains previous criticism of Congresswomen by leading Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Middle East Peace Foundation, a human rights and research group, said Republicans are trying to back up their case against Omar using Democratic statements and actions.

“They own it,” she said of the Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “Over the past few years, they have made the decision to jump on board and score political points at the expense of Ilhan… And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to remove her from the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and fellow Muslim-American congresswoman Rashida Tlaib hold “different standards” when it comes to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both MPs were racistly attacked by former President Donald Trump, who tweeted in 2019 that they, along with other progressive Congresswomen of color, “should return to the ruined and crime-infested places they came from.”

Omar, in particular, has become a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric ahead of the 2020 election. At one rally in 2019, Trump did not intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said the attacks on Omar are attractive to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really convenient way to embarrass Democrats and back them into a corner, because when the Democrats vote against it tomorrow, the Republican argument will be, ‘I don’t get it. you said it all [against Omar]. Why don’t you hold her accountable? Politically, it’s just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s attempt to remove her from the committee, despite initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmin Taeb, legislative and political director of MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-focused foreign policy.”

“Rep. Omar speaks the truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And the Republican leadership of the House of Representatives would rather spend time attacking a progressive black Muslim woman and promoting a far-right agenda than working to meet the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera via email.

Omar has been a strong advocate for human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she also criticizes other countries, including countries in the Middle East, for human rights violations.

However, critics have accused her of perpetuating anti-Semitic clichés in her criticism of Israel, and even allies have called some of her comments “sloppy,” if not malicious.

On Thursday, the Victory Without War group, which promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, denounced the Republicans’ move against Omar as an attempt to deprive the House Foreign Affairs Committee of “a progressive champion and seasoned lawmaker who challenges the political status quo.”

“Rep. Omar helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has aggressively campaigned for Pentagon budget cuts, held U.S. allies accountable for human rights violations, and confronted racism and Islamophobia in U.S. foreign policy,” said Win Without War Executive Director Sarah Hagdusty.

war committee

Congressional committees serve as specialized microcosms of Congress. Groups promote legislation, exercise oversight, and wield tremendous power over the legislative process.

Typically, the ruling party appoints the chairmen and members of most committees, while the opposition party appoints its legislators to the commissions.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, a Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video of him assassinating Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now Green is openly advocating for Omar’s removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on this committee with this attitude towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it is the wrong position for any member of the United States Congress to have such an attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Green was stripped of her committee positions, McCarthy openly vowed revenge on Democrats if they became a minority in the House of Representatives, which happened in the 2022 midterms.

“You will regret this. And you may regret it much sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at the time.

The newly elected speaker also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was a former chairman of the commission.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is being called to resign because of lies about his background, professional and personal history, has “temporarily stepped down” from committee assignments as he is under investigation for his campaign.

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