A disgraceful action by House Republicans against Ilhan Omar

A disgraceful action by House Republicans against Ilhan Omar February 3, 2023

Not everybody follows the news about committee assignments in the House of Representatives, but we all should be aware of what just happened to Ilhan Omar – and we should be outraged.

Rep. Omar was removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday (Thursday) by a party-line vote.

Party politics has gotten so nasty and vengeful lately, and important truths have been lost in the heat of argument, so I’m going to try to avoid partisan language for the rest of this post.

In other words, rather than labelling this as one party attacking another party, or chalking it up to someone’s stupidity, let’s see what actually happened. In the end, this was an attack on an individual, and what matters is the reasoning behind it, not the party that perpetrated it (you are welcome to disagree).

"Ilhan Omar" by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
“Ilhan Omar” by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

I have particularly strong feelings about Ms. Omar. She is a refugee from a war-torn country who came to the US to participate in freedom and democracy. In this way she is very much like my husband of 37 years. He was born in the Gaza Strip, in a refugee camp, and was there during the Six-Day War. Some of the things that he and Ms. Omar have seen in their lifetimes, the memories they carry with them, we can’t even begin to imagine.

My husband is a light-ish skinned Arab and Muslim male, so it’s possible for him to “pass” as white (as long as nobody knows his name or hears his accent) – but Ilhan Omar is conspicuous with her black skin and hijab. Those of us who live with privilege have no idea of the courage she has to muster every day to live a public life.

It is her very distinctness and courage that would have made her a real asset to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. She sees the world through a unique lens, and we need diversity of lenses in our government. A wealthy, white, privileged male Congress member may think he’s open-minded, but can not see the world as a black, Muslim, female immigrant who has lived in Africa, and has had the experience of being a refugee and asylum-seeker.

This is what it’s about

Speaker Kevin McCarthy explained her dismissal: “We’re not removing her from other committees, we just do not believe when it comes to foreign affairs—she shouldn’t serve there.”

Omar heard his message loud and clear (watch a clip of her powerful speech here):

This debate today, it’s about who gets to be an American. What opinions do we get to have, do we have to have to be counted as Americans, this is what this debate is about. 

I am Muslim. I am an immigrant … Is anyone surprised that I am being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy, or that they see me as a powerful voice that needs to be silenced?…

I am an American — an American who was sent here by her constituents to represent them in Congress, a refugee who survived the horrors of a civil war. Someone who spent her childhood in a refugee camp, someone who knows what it means to have a shot at a better life here in the United States, and someone who believes in the American dream.

It is no coincidence that this hijab-wearing woman of color would empathize with marginalized groups – refugees, asylum seekers, Palestinians.

It’s also no coincidence that white men (and women) would be especially intimidated by her, or that they would find some reason to bully, disqualify, and silence her.

(Commercial: if you question “business as usual” in Christianity and partisan politics – or want to question it – subscribe to my newsletter, and we can journey together!)

This is what else it’s about

The New York Times described the removal of Ilhan Omar as an effort not just to settle a partisan score, but also to “curry favor with pro-Israel groups and evangelical voters.”

Rep. Omar has made mistakes. She has made comments in good faith that were taken in bad faith, comments that she may or may not have known to be unacceptable in polite company. I’m referring here to her supposed “antisemitic tropes” (I’ve written about this elsewhere).

In today’s “polite” company, there are some truths you don’t say out loud – but this kind of politeness is not Omar’s style. Washington needs more people willing to tell the truth and fewer people trying to shut them up.

She was pressured into apologizing for some of the things she said, but Ilhan Omar makes a lot of sense.

Here’s part of a conversation she had around the issue back in 2019:

…a lot of our Jewish colleagues, a lot of our constituents, a lot of our allies, go to thinking that everything we say about Israel to be anti-Semitic because we [herself and Rep. Rashida Tlaib] are Muslim.

But it’s almost as if, every single time we say something regardless of what it is we say…we get to be labeled something. And that ends the discussion. Because we end up defending that, and nobody ever gets to have the broader debate of what is happening with Palestine.

Ilhan Omar is acutely aware of an unaddressed human rights issue that affects millions of people (and that the US subsidizes to the tune of $10 million a day). Every attempt she makes to talk about it is ignored for the sake of political correctness (a “correctness” defined by supporters of Israel).

Mind you, Omar is not criticizing Jews for what is happening in Israel – she is criticizing Israel for what’s happening in Israel – and the US for complicity. She’s asking to have an actual debate about it. And this is unacceptable.

Never mind that a number of prominent Congress members – many of them Jewish – stood with her during the debate. Never mind that other Congress members have made truly antisemitic remarks, and that other politicians have courted actual antisemites and even Holocaust deniers.

Because she empathizes with the plight of the Palestinians – that is to say, she won’t get in line with those who support the apartheid regime of Israel – she can’t be trusted to have an acceptable conversation about foreign policy.

One of Omar’s detractors, Rep. Mike Lawler, called her views “hateful” – and that’s not the first time the word has been wrongly applied to her. There is a big difference between hate and criticism, but it’s easier to say “that’s hateful” than “that’s inconveniently true.”

Most politicians don’t want to acknowledge inconvenient truths, because once you do, you can’t un-acknowledge it. You are stuck. You must address it or sacrifice your integrity. But let’s be perfectly clear here: politicians know what’s going on in Israel, and their integrity has gone down the toilet.

(If you are energized by challenges to the status quo like this, please subscribe to my newsletter! If you would like to comment on this post, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment! I welcome your thoughts.)

Browse Our Archives