WASHINGTON – The US House of Representatives has voted along the party line Thursday to remove Democratic Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee over past anti-Semitic remarks.
The removal, the first for a Democrat during this session of Congress, followed Democrats voting last Congress to strip two Republicans of their committee seats for making threats against other lawmakers.
The vote in the Republican-majority House to oust Omar from the panel was 218-211, with Ohio GOP Rep. David Joyce in attendance.
Democratic Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, who is Jewish, opposed the resolution, saying Omar had learned from the outcry about her earlier anti-Semitic remarks and that “atonement should be rewarded.”
“Don’t get me wrong, Rep. Omar and I are regularly on different politics, both at home and abroad. And she has sometimes used words that have caused me and others concern, offense and even personal pain,” Phillips said. “She and I spoke face to face on those occasions, and she apologized, and she learned from those missteps.”
Phillips predicted that most Jewish members of the US House of Representatives would vote to keep Omar on the Foreign Affairs Committee because she was willing to listen to her peers. He also slammed Republicans for trying to silence or “unseal” them, calling it ironic.
“It’s the very weapon of anti-Semitism that, as a Jewish person, I find repulsive, dangerous, and most importantly, shameful,” he said. “To my friends across the aisle, if you’re really serious about defeating anti-Semitism in America, how about you 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 showing her killing other members, hasn’t wondered if a plane really did hit the Pentagon on 9/11, has wondered if school shootings are staged, Space lasers as the cause of forest fires propagated or equated with vaccination orders from Adolf Hitler.
Those comments all come from Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who along with Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, was removed from their committees last Congress for making threats against other lawmakers.
Republicans said throughout the debate that words matter and that members of Congress need to be held at a higher level, especially when their comments are anti-Semitic or anti-Israel.
“Members of the Committee on Foreign Affairs represent the United States abroad and are considered credible emissaries of American foreign policy,” said Republican Rep. Max Miller of Ohio. “Your words carry significant weight in guiding our relations with other countries and are relied on by world leaders.”
“What happens when a committee member is no longer viewed as a credible emissary of our foreign policy?” asked Mueller. “How can she serve as an objective decision-maker on the committee given her biased statements against Israel and against the Jewish people?”
Omar speaks out
During a deeply personal speech about her time as a refugee from a war zone and her experiences as a black Muslim woman, Omar said the debate is about “who gets to become an American”.
She said she wasn’t surprised that Republicans wanted to remove her from the committee, although she noted that she would not stop speaking about American foreign policy or working to break the “myth that American foreign policy is moral, to make it a reality”.
“There’s a notion out there that I don’t have objective decision-making based on who I am, where I come from and my perspective. But I refuse,” said Omar.
Standing next to a photo of herself as a 9-year-old, Omar said the girl would be disappointed if she didn’t “speak about the victims of conflict, those who have suffered unjust wars, atrocities, ethnic cleansing, occupations or other displacement.”
“They are looking to the international community and the United States and asking for help,” Omar said, adding that they are turning 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 a term — my voice is growing louder and stronger.”
Omar statements detailed
The four-sided resolution lists several previous statements by Omar, including in February 2019 when she “suggested that the Jewish people and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) would buy political support, saying, ‘It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.’ ‘ and in March 2019, when she called 9/11 “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 declaring, ‘We must have the same level of accountability and justice for all victims of crimes against humanity. We have seen unimaginable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan and the Taliban.’”
The resolution states that this statement “a false equation 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 involved in the commission of war crimes.” including the use of civilians as human beings, manufactures protective shields, which is prohibited under customary international humanitarian law.”
Greene and Gosar
The House voted during the 117th Congress to remove Georgias Greene from all of its committees after she threatened other members, made racist and anti-Semitic remarks, and floated conspiracy theories about the September 11 terrorist attack.
Maryland Democratic Rep. Steny Hoyer spoke Thursday with a poster that featured a social media post by Greene, in which she shared a photo of herself with a gun alongside photos of Democratic members of the House of Representatives and the words “Squad’s Worst Nightmare” showed.
“The two people that we removed from the committees were not removed for speaking, they were removed for threatening other members,” Hoyer said, noting that Greene’s testimony was made before she became a member.
Arizona’s Gosar was also removed from the committees after releasing a video of him killing New York Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking President Joe Biden.
“There is no equality here. We believe in free speech, no matter how hateful that speech is. And I’m telling you, I am not stepping back from anyone in this room in my support of Israel and against anti-Semitism,” Hoyer said. “But the equivalency that has been made here is absolutely unfounded and you are walking a terrible path.”