The newly installed Republican House majority did a disservice to the nation when it expelled Democratic Rep. Ilhan Abdullahi Omar of Minnesota from the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs. Because of her background, Omar was ideally suited for the panel.
She came to the U.S. as a refugee with her family at age 8, fleeing civil war in their native Somalia. They lived four years in a Kenya refugee camp, along with tens of thousands of others, before being sponsored for residence in the U.S., eventually settling in Minneapolis. She learned English by watching television shows, she has said.
Omar worked as a community educator at the University of Minnesota, a Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and a Senior Policy Aide with the Minneapolis City Council. Inspired by her grandfather, she has said, she entered politics and won a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2016. That made her the highest elected Somali American public ofﬁcial and the ﬁrst Somali American state legislator in the country. She served as Assistant Minority Leader and on three committees.
After Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison decided to run for the state’s attorney general, Omar campaigned to replace him. She won in 2018, becoming the ﬁrst Somali American and the ﬁrst naturalized African member of Congress, and won re-election twice. She has also served on the Sub-Committee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights and International Organizations and the Subcommittee on International Development, International Organizations and Global Corporate Social Impact.
Despite what the ouster resolution said, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy claimed Omar was removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee in retaliation against Democrats for expelling Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosa of Arizona from their committees. But Omar’s colleagues saw through the fake excuse.
“A blatant double standard is being applied here,” New York Rep. Gregory W. Meeks, the top Democrat on the Foreign Affairs committee, said during the expulsion debate. “And what is the difference between Representative Omar and these members? Could it be the way that she looks? Could it be her religious practices?”
Missouri Congresswoman Cori Bush accused Republicans of “waging a blatantly Islamophobic and racist attack against Congresswoman Omar. I have said it before, I will say it again: The white supremacy happening is unbelievable. This is despicable.”
And New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, in a ﬁery floor speech, accused the Republican Party of “racism and incitement of violence against women of color in this body. This is about targeting women of color in the United States of America.”
Omar herself was deﬁant: “I am Muslim. I am an immigrant and, interestingly, from Africa. Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?” Republican frenzy over Omar gained speed when she tweeted in 2019 that U.S. support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins.” The ouster resolution, which Ohio Rep. Max Leonard Miller introduced, said Omar’s comment “suggested that Jewish people and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) were buying political support” and was “an anti-Semitic trope.” Omar subsequently said, “I unequivocally apologize” after speaking to “Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes.”
Omar, a Muslim and the ﬁrst to wear a traditional hijab or head scarf in Congress, is herself the object of similar tropes. Republican Rep. Lauren Opal Boebert of Colorado once told a home district crowd: “I see a Capitol police ofﬁcer running to the elevator. I see fret all over his face, and he’s reaching, and the door’s shutting, like I can’t open it, like what’s happening. I look to my left, and there she is. Ilhan Omar. And I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack, we should be ﬁne.’” That was an obvious reference to suicide bombers but they usually have explosives strapped to their bodies. Boebert subsequently apologized “to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Representative Omar.”
AIPAC did donate heavily in last November’s mid-term campaign to candidates running against those deemed anti-Israel, Jewish Currents reported: “By dumping at least $28.5 million into the elections, AIPAC sought to keep candidates critical of Israel’s human rights abuses from gaining greater power in Congress, to replace retiring progressive incumbents with allies and to make progressives think twice about criticizing Israeli apartheid at all.”
The Republicans’ sudden concern for anti-Semitism belies its history. Egyptian American journalist Moustafa Bayoumi said in a Guardian column that McCarthy
himself, in a tweet during the 2018 presidential campaign, accused three Jewish billionaires of trying to influence the voting: “We cannot allow [George] Soros, [Tom] Steyer, and [Michael] Bloomberg to BUY this election!” And, last November, former President Donald John Trump had as dinner guest at his Mar-a-Lago residence the notorious neo-Nazi Nicholas Joseph Fuentes.
Today’s Republican party, Bayoumi said, “has a serious anti-Semitism problem. … The easy acceptance and ampliﬁcation of all sorts of anti-Jewish hate that party leaders engage in emboldens all the worst bigots, raving racists and farright extremists across the globe, all the while threatening Jewish people here and everywhere.” Bayoumi said that Omar has criticized both Israel and the United States, as well as Saudi Arabia, India, Russia, the Taliban and others. “But instead of seeing her willingness to challenge convention as a right of democracy, her detractors see her principled questions and positions as an anti-American threat.”
Indeed, issues which Omar and others have raised about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S.-Israel relations merit serious consideration because there is much to consider, going back to the British-led creation of the state of Israel, the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from their homeland, which they have dubbed the “Nakba” or “Catastrophe,” to the treatment of those who were pushed into in Gaza and the West Bank which some critics have likened to apartheid, including former President Jimmy Carter. There is also much to consider regarding Israeli settlements in territories seized in war time and its disregard for United Nations resolutions.