Rep. Ilhan Omar, center, shown here in a Nov. 30, 2021 file photo with Rep. Rashida Tlaib, left, and Rep. Jamaal Bowman, was removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Feb. 2, 2023. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON — The U.S. House voted along party lines Thursday to remove Minnesota Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee for past antisemitic statements.
The removal, the first for a Democrat during this session of Congress, followed Democrats’ vote to strip two Republicans of all their committee assignments last Congress for making threats against fellow lawmakers.
The vote in the majority-Republican House to kick Omar off the panel was 218-211, with Ohio GOP Rep. David Joyce voting present. All of Iowa’s Republican representatives voted for removing Omar.
Minnesota Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips, who is Jewish, opposed the resolution, saying that Omar has learned from the outcry to her prior antisemitic statements and that “atonement should be rewarded.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Rep. Omar and I regularly disagree on policy, both domestic and foreign. And she has at times used words that have caused concern, offense and even personal pain to me and others,” Phillips said. “She and I have spoken face-to-face on those occasions, and she has apologized, and she has learned from those missteps.”
Phillips predicted that most Jewish members of the U.S. House would vote to keep Omar on the Foreign Affairs Committee because of her willingness to listen to her colleagues. He also sharply criticized Republicans for attempting to silence or “cancel” her, calling it ironic.
“This is the very weaponization of antisemitism that I, as a Jewish person, find repulsive, I find dangerous and above (all) else shameful,” he said. “To my friends across the aisle, if you really are sincere about defeating antisemitism in America, how about, ask us what we need. And let me assure you, you might be surprised by the answer.”
Phillips also noted that Omar has never posted a video depicting herself killing fellow members, hasn’t questioned whether a plane really struck the Pentagon on 9/11, wondered if school shootings are staged, propagated space lasers as the cause of wildfires, or equated vaccine mandates with Adolf Hitler.
Those comments have all been made by Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who, along with Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, were removed from their committees last Congress for making threats against fellow lawmakers.
Republicans, throughout the debate, said words have meaning and members of Congress must be held to a higher standard, especially when their comments are antisemitic or anti-Israel.
“Members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs represent the United States abroad and are regarded as credible emissaries of American foreign policy,” said Ohio Republican Rep. Max Miller. “Their words have significant weight in guiding our relations with other countries and are relied upon by world leaders.”
“What happens when a committee member is no longer viewed as a credible emissary of our foreign policy?” Miller asked. “Given her biased comments against Israel and against the Jewish people, how can she serve as an objective decision maker on the committee?”
Omar speaks out
Omar, during a deeply personal floor speech about her time as a refugee from a war zone and her experiences as a Black Muslim woman, said the debate was about “who gets to be an American.”
She said she wasn’t surprised that Republicans have targeted her for removal from the committee, though she noted that she would not stop speaking about American foreign policy or working to make the “myth that American foreign policy is moral a reality.”
“There is an idea out there that I do not have objective decision-making because of who I am, where I come from and my perspective. But I reject that,” Omar said.
Standing next to a photograph of herself as a 9-year-old, Omar said that girl would be disappointed if she didn’t talk “about the victims of conflict, those that are experiencing unjust wars, atrocities, ethnic cleansing, occupation, or displacement.”
“They are looking to the international community and the United States asking for help,” Omar said, adding that they turn to America because the country professes “the values of protecting human rights and upholding international law.”
“I didn’t come to Congress to be silent, I came to Congress to be their voice,” Omar said. “And my leadership and voice will not be diminished if I am not on this committee for one term — my voice will get louder and stronger.”
Omar statements detailed
The four-page resolution lists several of Omar’s previous statements, including in February 2019 when she “suggested that Jewish people and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were buying political support, saying, ‘It’s all about the Benjamins, baby’” and in March 2019, when she referred to 9/11 as “some people did something.”
The resolution also notes that in June 2021, “Omar equated the United States and Israel with Hamas and the Taliban by stating, ‘We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the U.S., Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban.'”
The resolution says that statement established “a false equivalency between Israel — which has the right and responsibility to protect itself and its citizens from all forms of terrorism — and Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization actively engaged in committing war crimes, including using civilians as human shields, which is banned under customary international humanitarian law.”
Greene and Gosar
The House voted during the 117th Congress to remove Georgia’s Greene from all her committees after she threatened fellow members, made racist and antisemitic remarks, and voiced conspiracy theories about the 9/11 terrorist attack.
Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer took to the floor Thursday with a poster showing a social media post by Greene in which she displayed a photo of herself holding a gun next to photos of Democratic members of the House and the words “Squad’s worst nightmare.”
“The two individuals that we removed from committees were not removed for their speech, they were removed because they made threats against other members,” Hoyer said, noting Greene’s was made before she was a member.
Arizona’s Gosar was also removed from committees after he posted a video of himself killing Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and attacking President Joe Biden.
“There is no equivalency here. We believe in free speech, however hateful that speech is. And I tell you, I take a back seat to no one in this chamber in my support of Israel and against antisemitism,” Hoyer said. “But the equivalency that has been made here is absolutely without merit, and you go down a terrible road.”
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