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Bahbah: The Attack on Rep. Ilhan Omar and her Removal from the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee is Unjustifiable

posted on: Feb 8, 2023

File:Ilhan Omar 01.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By: Bishara A. Bahbah / Arab America Featured Columnist

On Thursday, February 2nd, Republicans in the House of Representatives showed their ugly face by voting unanimously to strip Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat, from her seat in the House’s Foreign Affairs Committee. This was not an unprecedented action in the US Congress. Sadly, when Democrats and Republicans squabble, they take measures that might sometimes not be in the country’s best interest.  

The attack on the congresswoman is an attack on the founding principles of this great nation. Rep. Omar stands for what this country is fundamentally about: participating in the democracy of a country of immigrants and refugees.  A country that harbors those who are oppressed, dispossessed, and unable to exercise their freedom of speech and practice their religious and political beliefs freely. 

History Being Made

In one sentence, Omar is the first-ever black, African-born Muslim woman to win a seat in the US Congress and a committee assignment on the House’s influential Foreign Affairs Committee. She came to the United States from Somalia as a refugee. For a committee focused on the aid of refugees, Omar is the only person on that committee who has ever lived in a refugee camp. 

She should be celebrated, not attacked. While serving in Congress, she has spoken up for refugees, open immigration, women’s and minority populations’ rights, for those who are oppressed and in need worldwide.

File:Israel-Palestine flags.svg - Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Stance on Palestine

Omar was harshly criticized for her criticisms of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and is fighting for the right of Palestinians to live in a state of their own, side by side with Israel. In February 2019, Rep. Omar tweeted that support for Israel in the United States was “all about the Benjamins” (referring to Benjamin Franklin, whose image appears on the $100 bills). Omar subsequently specified that she was referring to the impact of funds raised in support of political candidates from the supporters of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee), one of the most powerful lobbies in the United States. AIPAC has been dedicated to strengthening US support for Israel for decades by rewarding its allies and ruthlessly punishing those who oppose Israel’s interests in the United States.

When the Republicans won a majority in the House of Representatives during last year’s elections and installed Kevin McCarthy this January as Speaker of the House, one of the first acts by the Republican-controlled House was to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The vote in the House was strictly along party lines. However, all Jewish members of the House, except for the two Republicans, voted in support of Omar and her retaining her Foreign Affairs Committee assignment.  

IMG_3087 | House Committee on Foreign Affairs | Flickr
Credit: Flickr

Disapproval Amongst The People

It is no wonder that 75 percent of Americans have recently voiced their disapproval of how Congress handles its job. Mr. McCarthy has stooped to a lower low in advocating for the removal of Rep. Omar. Sadly, to become speaker of the House, Mr. McCarthy had to strip himself of every shred of dignity to carry the votes of right-wing Republicans.

The editorial board of the New York Daily News, a newspaper known for its staunch support of Israel, wrote an editorial on February 6 that read, “this board does not agree with Omar’s wrongheaded characterizations of Israel’s policies and U.S. support for them, but that doesn’t disqualify her from sitting on the panel, where she has served for four years, two under former Chair Eliot Engel and two under former Chair Greg Meeks, both strong supporters of Israel.”

As a result of her fierce denunciation of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians, Omar has been described as antisemitic. Nonetheless, criticism of Israeli policies cannot and should not be viewed as antisemitism. Rep. Omar knows well the difference between AIPAC and J Street. Both are pro-Israel and primarily Jewish lobbies; however, J Street supports a two-state solution, unlike today’s Israel. Omar has criticized AIPAC and not J Street.

Ilhan Omar | U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar speaking with sup… | Flickr
Credit: Flickr

Recently, more than 30 House Democrats have signed on to a new resolution “recognizing Israel as America’s legitimate and democratic ally and condemning antisemitism.” Rep. Omar was the most notable among those who signed on to this resolution. Then on Twitter, she emphasized that her criticisms of US foreign policy and “Israel’s policy toward Palestinians” have not changed.

Without belaboring the issue, Rep. Omar is a fine example of how America is the land of opportunity and freedom. Cong. Omar came as a refugee to this country, got educated, and successfully ran for Congress. Her criticism of some of US foreign policies is legitimate, and she is within her right, as an American, to express those views. 

Dr. Bishara A Bahbah taught at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government where he was also the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He was the editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr Palestinian newspaper. He served as a member of the Palestinian delegation on “Arms Control and Regional Security.” Dr. Bahbah is currently the vice president of the U.S. Palestinian Council (USPC), a Washington-based public advocacy and educational group.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Arab America.

The reproduction of this article is permissible with proper credit to Arab America and the author.

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