The Real Reason House Republicans Kicked Ilhan Omar off the Foreign Affairs Committee

It’s not about anything she said. It’s about racism and Islamophobia.

Rep. Ilhan Omar leaves her office on February 2, 2023.Kevin Dietsch/Getty

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House Republicans removed Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from the Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday because she is a Black, Muslim woman. Officially, that’s not the reason. But the facts speak for themselves: The removal is the culmination of years of targeting Omar by Donald Trump, the rightwing media, and Republican lawmakers who attacked her religion, ethnicity, and history as a refugee. The GOP majority has an official reason for ousting Omar—and then there’s the reason both they and everyone else know is really behind this outrage. 

Their nominal reason is that past anti-Semitic comments make her unsuited to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee. The resolution to remove Omar contains a list of offenses. Read closely, it reveals how the party (along with some moderate Democrats) have targeted Omar since she was elected in 2018, taking her words out of context to make her a boogeyman for the right. 

The first offense is a February 2019 tweet in which Omar attributed lawmakers’ support for Israel to the deep pockets of the pro-Israel lobby, touching on the anti-Semitic trope that Jews buy influence and control. That tweet caused outcry on both sides of the aisle. Omar’s response included the words: “I unequivocally apologize.”

The resolution continues by citing a comment Omar made a month later during a panel discussion: “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” The context matters. Omar was responding to a question about how accusations of anti-Semitism are used to shut down debate over Israel’s policy toward Palestine, particularly when targeted at Muslims like herself. But Omar’s use of the word “allegiance” touched on the trope of Jews being disloyal, and drew bipartisan criticism.

The other accusations against Omar are baseless. One takes a single line from a speech she gave about 9/11 out of context to claim that she minimized the terrorist attack. The rightwing media made a huge to-do about it at the time, painting Omar as anti-American—an opportunist smear rather than honest interpretation of her speech. The resolution also cites Omar’s contention that Israel is an apartheid state as evidence of her anti-Semitism. Whether to apply the term “apartheid” to Israel is open to debate, but it’s not necessarily anti-Semitic to do so, as have Human Rights Watch and the Israeli rights group B’Tselem

The resolution next accuses Omar of “equat[ing] the United States and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban.” This is false. The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Breunig obliterated the smear at the time, noting that attacking Omar as anti-American and anti-Semitic had already become a normal day’s work for the GOP and some Democrats who both seemed to have reasoned that teaming up against a Black Muslim progressive was good politics for everyone.

Taken together, the resolution is a remarkable document. It details two instances where Omar’s language about Israel was careless and, inadvertently, drew on anti-Semitic tropes, followed by several itemized smears. Nearly all involve Omar’s criticism of Israel, which are valid policy positions that challenge the GOP’s alliance with Israel’s rightwing government and its policies. By ousting Omar from the committee, House Republicans hope to use their support for Israel to paper over their own party’s much deeper issues with anti-Semitism.

For instance, the resolution doesn’t mention that the new Republican majority stripping Omar of her committee assignment on Foreign Affairs has also reinstated Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) to committees after Democrats (and a few Republicans) voted to bar her from them over violent rhetoric. Unlike Omar, Greene actually has an anti-Semitism problem. In a 2018 Facebook post, she accused the Rothschilds of using space lasers to start California’s wildfires. (She claimed to have no idea that the Rothschilds were frequently invoked to smear Jewish people.) She was the first QAnon supporter elected to Congress, bringing new prominence to a conspiracy theory infected with anti-Semitism. Last year, she addressed a conference hosted by Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist, Holocaust denier who spoke approvingly of Hitler right before Greene took the stage. When scrutiny ensued, she actually claimed that she didn’t know who Fuentes was. 

Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) welcomed Greene as an ally in his fraught bid for House speaker last month and rewarded her with committee assignments, including a coveted spot on the House’s oversight committee. “I will never leave that woman,” McCarthy reportedly said of Greene after she helped him secure the speakership. “I will always take care of her.” 

Greene’s brand of anti-Semitism—and more broadly, racism, white nationalism, and conspiracy theories—infect the entire Republican Party. In 2016, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign used images of Jews and money in ways that invoked anti-Semitic tropes far more explicitly than anything Omar is accused of making. McCarthy himself has invoked the same stereotypes against wealthy Jewish figures. And of course, after neo-Nazis in Charlottesville chanted “Jews will not replace us,” Trump said there were “fine people on both sides.” 

More recently, Trump, in the midst of his third presidential campaign, had dinner with Fuentes and Ye, the rapper who formerly went by Kanye West. This was a more than a month after Ye had tweeted promising to go “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE” and made other anti-Semitic comments. Fuentes is, again, a Holocaust-denying racist. Like Greene, Trump claimed he didn’t know who Fuentes was. McCarthy and many of his colleagues were reluctant to criticize Trump for the dinner. When finally put on the spot at a press conference, McCarthy said that no one should be spending time with Fuentes, falsely claimed that Trump had denounced Fuentes, and had nothing to say about dining with Ye. Most elected Republicans found ways to duck the issue.

And yet, they are nobly riding to the defense of the Jews in ousting Omar. The GOP has been gunning for Omar ever since she was elected. Trump made a hobby of attacking Omar during his presidency, often portraying her as un-American and accusing her of sympathizing with the 9/11 terrorist attackers. During a 2019 rally in North Carolina, Trump spent several minutes railing against Omar as a terrorist sympathizer until the crowd began to chant “Send her back!” (Omar came to the United States as a refugee in 1995 and has been a citizen since 2000.) Trump’s presidential campaign even targeted the representative her in Facebook ads, again depicting her as a terrorist sympathizing anti-Semite. The attacks were replicated by Republicans around the country. Omar endured death threats as a result of Trump’s attacks. 

Omar, speaking before the vote, asked if it is any surprise that, given the GOP’s attempt to smear the first Black president as an un-American, African-born Muslim, that the party has now moved on to targeting a Black Muslim who was born in Africa.

It’s not. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), defending Omar on the House floor, accused her Republican colleagues voting to oust Omar of racism. “This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America,” she said.

@motherjonesmag

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez brings her signature 🔥 to the congressional floor while calling out the Republican hypocrisy of removing Ilhan Omar from her Foreign Affairs Committee post. Check it out. #aoc #ilhanomar #thesquad #foreignaffairs #congress #alexandriaocasiocortez

♬ Creepy Violins – Apollo Nove

When you add up the evidence—the party’s long history of targeting Omar with anti-Muslim smears, its tolerance of anti-Semitism in its own ranks, and the resolution’s weak, fabricated attacks—the obvious and logical verdict is racism.

We don’t need the history books to tell us. We all know it as it is happening.

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