GOP Leaders Slam Appointment of Boycott-Israel Supporter to House Foreign Affairs Committee

Patrick Goodenough | January 17, 2019 | 5:49pm EST
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Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., listens during a news conference on prescription drugs at the Capitol on January 10, 2019. Omar has been appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

( – The House Democratic caucus has appointed, to a committee chaired by one of its most pro-Israel members, a Muslim freshman lawmaker who supports the boycott-Israel movement and has come under fire for anti-Israel tweets.

House Republican leaders called the decision “disgraceful.”

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) is one of 25 newly-announced members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, its chairman Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) confirmed on Thursday, welcoming what he called a “dynamic and diverse group [that] will bring to the committee new ideas, lively debate, and a shared commitment to advancing America’s interests and values around the world.”

Engel, formerly the committee’s ranking member, has long been one of Israel’s most ardent Democratic supporters in Congress, and has sponsored numerous pieces of pro-Israel legislation, including measures opposing the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement

Rep.Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., speaks alongside Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., on Capitol Hill. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images, File)

Engel praised President Trump’s Dec. 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and criticized the Obama administration’s Dec. 2016 decision to abstain rather than veto a U.N. Security Council resolution that describes areas including the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City – the location of the holiest site in Judaism – as “occupied Palestinian territory.”

Now the committee he chairs will include a member who supports the BDS movement as does Omar’s fellow Muslim colleague, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) – and whose social media criticism of Israel has drawn fire.

“Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” Omar tweeted in November 2012, during an eight-day conflict between Israel and the Hamas terrorist group, triggered by an escalation of rocket attacks from Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Omar has also referred to Israel’s elected government as “the apartheid Israeli regime.”

House GOP leaders slammed the committee appointment.

Noting that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer are both on record opposing the BDS movement, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a statement he would “love to know what changed, because Democratic leaders just promoted a pro-BDS Democrat to a key committee that deals with the State of Israel.”

Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) called Omar’s appointment “disgraceful.”

“Rather than standing up against the disturbing rise of anti-Semitic rhetoric on the left, House Democrats have now just endorsed that ideology,” he said.


Others to question the assignment included the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC).

“What Democrats will tell you: Democrats aren't abandoning Israel, [Ilhan Omar] is just one of two Freshman that (publicly) support BDS and she has no real influence,” the RJC tweeted. “The truth: Democratic Party leaders gave [Omar] a coveted seat on the all-important House Foreign Affairs Cmte.”

The criticism then drew flak from Jeremy Ben Ami, president of the liberal Jewish organization J Street, who tweeted that “some of the commentary I've seen about [Omar’s] assignment has been disgusting. I disagree w/ her stance on BDS. But the smears of her as an anti-Semite – or suggestions that she is somehow not fit to serve on the committee – are just plain wrong.”

RJC national spokesman Neil Boylan Strauss hit back: “In what world is it a ‘smear’ to point out that [Omar] used anti-Semitic tropes when she accused Israel of hypnotizing the world? The idea that a small group of Jews is controlling the world is right out of the classic anti-Semite playbook.”

In a CNN appearance on Thursday, Omar was asked about her “Israel has hypnotized the world” tweet which, it was put to her, was offensive to Jewish Americans.

“I don’t know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans,” Omar replied. “My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War. I am clearly speaking about the way that the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”

In a statement reacting to her “1st choice” committee assignment, Omar – who was born in Somalia and moved to the U.S. as a refugee in 1995 – said, “As someone who has seen firsthand the havoc wreaked by war, I am proud to serve on the committee that is responsible for overseeing our country’s – and this President’s – actions abroad.”

“This couldn’t come at a more critical time. We need to use the committee’s human rights jurisdiction to hold the President accountable for deaths in detention centers on his watch,” she continued.

“We need to investigate how foreign governments and their lobbyists have violated our laws. And we need to reign in arms sales to human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia. We have our work cut out for us.”

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