Ilhan Omar’s removal spikes controversy in the House

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Sheila Rafizadeh, Contributor

In a sweeping vote of 218-211, Congress removed Minnesota’s fifth Congressional District Representative, Ilhan Omar, from the Foreign Affairs Committee on Feb. 2 for making anti-Semitic remarks. Omar, a Somali-American Democrat and one of the only Muslim members of Congress, felt that this removal was a targeted attack on her as a Black Muslim woman. While many believe that her past comments played into anti-Semitic tropes, others believe that her removal was extreme and unnecessary.

In 2019, Omar was under a great deal of scrutiny from Republicans and Democrats for her anti-Israel tweets, specifically where she referred to certain pro-Israel organizations as being “all about the Benjamin’s, baby,” alluding to an anti-Semitic trope about Jewish people and money. She has also been criticized for referring to Israel as an apartheid State.

Omar apologized for her past comments and claimed to be unaware of this anti-Semitic stereotype. “I certainly did not or was not aware of the fact that there are tropes about Jews and money. That has been a very enlightening part of this journey,” Omar told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee is an important committee in the U.S. House of Representatives with jurisdiction over much of the nation’s foreign policy. Many believe that a committee of such high caliber has no place for members harboring prejudice against any group of people, such as New York Representative Mike Lawler, who stated that “Individuals who hold such hateful views should rightly be barred from that type of committee.”

Republican Congressman Max Miller, one of two Jewish members of the GOP and the one who initially submitted a resolution to remove Omar, expressed his feelings further. “Foreign Affairs Committee Members are regarded as credible emissaries of American foreign policy,” Miller said. “Their words have significant weight in guiding our relations with other countries and are relied upon by foreign leaders, most importantly, our allies such as Israel.”

Despite the outrage Omar has received from the public about her comments, she wrote on Twitter later that Thursday, “My critique of our foreign policy, Israeli’s policy towards Palestinians or that of any foreign nation will not change.” Some find this tweet contradicting due to her recognizing Israel as a Democratic state and a legitimate American ally that same day due to the comment’s inconsistencies. In fact, Omar has made it very public that she will continue to be the voice of those suffering from “unjust wars, atrocities, ethnic cleansing, occupation or displacement.”

Talia Cohen, a freshman at the University, defended Omar’s criticism of Israel. “I feel like we as a society need to realize that there’s a fine line between criticizing Israel for their treatment of Palestinians and being anti-Semitic,” she said. “I definitely, as a Jewish person myself, don’t believe that her calling out Israel for apartheid was anti-Semitic at all.”

Cohen is not the only person who feels this way. In fact, several Jewish Democrats defended Omar. Minnesota Representative Dean Phillips called the Republican-led removal of Omar a “weaponization of antisemitism,” which he calls “repulsive” as a Jewish person. Many House Democrats find it unnecessary to remove Omar from the committee when multiple prominent human rights organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also criticized Israel for enforcing an apartheid regime on Palestinians.

Ayah Ziyadeh, the Advocacy Director for the non-profit American Muslims for Palestine, claimed that “It’s vital for freedom of speech that pro-Palestinian voices can openly express themselves in Congress without fear of retribution.” Back in December 2022, eight high-profile Jewish organizations said in a joint statement, “We may not agree with some of Congresswoman Omar’s opinions, but we categorically reject the suggestion that any of her policy positions or statements merit disqualification from her role on the committee.”

Zoe Justin, a sophomore at the University elaborated that “Her anti-Semitic comments do spike a point in conversation that antisemitism is not only a thing on the right, it’s equally a thing on the left.” With the recent rise of antisemitism, this incident has sparked serious debates on both sides.

Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern discussed the hypocrisy of the Republican Party and said, “She even voted to condemn antisemitism,” referring to Omar. He continued, “Every Democrat did as well. Do you know who voted no? Twenty-three Republicans. Twenty-three Republicans voted against condemning antisemitism. Maybe the gentlemen can explain whether or not they should be removed from their committee.”

McGovern is not the only Democrat to call out the GOP’s hypocrisy, as Omar has been a target of Republican attacks for years. Omar herself concluded, “I am Muslim. I am an immigrant. Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?”

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez relayed her message and stated, “This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America.” Whether there were racist or Islamophobic motives involved in the ousting of Omar, many concluded that this incident had harmful impacts on the Jewish community.