Calls For Democratic Leadership to Remove Rep. Ilhan Omar From House Foreign Affairs Committee

By Patrick Goodenough | February 11, 2019 | 6:17 PM EST

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., takes a selfie with fellow lawmakers ahead of the State of the Union address on February 5, 2019. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – The Democratic leadership should go further than condemning Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for comments widely viewed as anti-Semitic and should remove her from her recently-announced House Foreign Affairs Committee assignment, some critics argued on Monday.

The Republican Jewish Coalition launched a petition calling on Democratic House leaders to strip the freshman lawmaker of her seat on “the prestigious and crucially important” committee, arguing that her “language and anti-Semitic hatred have no place in the halls of the U.S. Congress.”

Another petition calling for her removal from the committee – for remarks insinuating that the pro-Israel lobby pays members of Congress to support Israel – had attracted more than 36,000 signatures by early Tuesday morning.

Similar calls came from some Republican lawmakers, including Rep. Billy Long (R-Mo.), who tweeted, “And she’ll be removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee exactly when?”

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to “remove anti-Semitism” from the HFAC.

After Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and four other House Democratic leaders issued a statement Monday condemning Omar’s comments, she issued an apology.

Omar said she never intended to offend her constituents or Jewish Americans, but said she stood by her opposition to lobbying efforts of groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Zeldin then tweeted that he was “[g]lad the Speaker broke her silence, but that apology won’t do. Rep. Omar should be stripped of her committee assignments, including [HFAC].”

The Democratic caucus decision last month to give Omar a seat on the HFAC raised eyebrows, not least because her views on Israel and public support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement puts her at odds with the committee’s new chair, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), a strong supporter of Israel.

Among those criticizing the appointment were Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).

“Crazy to watch what House Dems are empowering/elevating,” Zeldin tweeted of the decision, in turn drawing a sharp response from Arsalan Iftikhar, the former legal director of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), who tweeted, “The Islamophobic dog whistles continue from the Republican Party...”

Omar herself then weighed in, tweeting that Zeldin was “just waking up to the reality of having Muslim women as colleagues who know how to stand up to bullies! It’s gonna be fun watching him lose his marbles.”

Defenders of Omar – a Somali-American and one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to the U.S. Congress – characterized criticism of her committee appointment as bigotry.

Engel on Monday issued a statement calling Omar’s comments “shocking,” but silent on whether he thinks her appointment to the committee is appropriate.

“I fully expect that when we disagree on the Foreign Affairs Committee, we will debate policy on the merits and never question members’ motives or resort to personal attacks,” he said. “Criticism of American policy toward any country is fair game, but this must be done on policy grounds.”

Engel added that as chairman he “will ensure support for Israel remains strong and bipartisan and I will shine a light on the evil of anti-Semitism and the danger it poses.”

“I will make the case to members on both side of the aisle that our alliance and friendship with Israel are important to our countries’ shared interests, security, and values. This has always been the basis of the U.S.-Israel relationship, and it’s the reason why members on both sides have been strong supporters of that relationship.”

Engel, who was formerly the committee’s ranking member, has sponsored numerous pro-Israel measures, including a resolution opposing the BDS movement.

His strong support for Israel has been evident in his willingness to praise President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital – and to criticize the Obama administration’s decision in 2016 to abstain rather than veto a U.N. Security Council resolution critical of Israel, which Engel blasted as “one-sided [and] biased.”

Shortly before Pelosi and her colleagues responded publicly on Monday, McCarthy in a statement accused House Democratic leaders of continuing “to be silent as Americans from both sides of the aisle condemn this rhetoric and pattern of behavior.”

“In the face of that abdication of leadership, Republicans will take action this week to ensure the House speaks out against this hatred and stands with Israel and the Jewish people,” he said.

McCarthy did not elaborate, but a resolution condemning anti-Israel attitudes and anti-Semitism, sponsored by Zeldin, was referred last month to the HFAC and Judiciary Committee, “for a period to be subsequently determined by the Speaker.”

The resolution (H.Res. 72), which includes references to Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) – as well as controversial Women’s March national leader Tamika Mallory and Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan – has 42 co-sponsors, all Republican.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow

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