Column: What got Rep. Ilhan Omar kicked off that House committee? Payback and prejudice, not antisemitism

A woman with covered hair with a camera lens pointed at her
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) leaves the House chamber on Thursday, the day Republicans voted to oust her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee in a raucous session.
(Jose Luis Magana / Associated Press)

The idea that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, who has essentially given aid and comfort to those who supported an insurrection against the United States government, would accuse anyone of being un-American is as rich as it is Orwellian.

But there he was on Thursday, moments after leading a successful effort to bounce Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), a Black, Somalia-born Muslim woman, off the House Foreign Affairs Committee, disparaging her as disloyal to the United States.

For what?

Opinion Columnist

Robin Abcarian

According to the House resolution that passed 218 to 211 along strict party lines, for making an antisemitic remark four years ago, for which she was condemned by her own caucus, and for which she apologized. And for describing Israel as an “apartheid state,” a characterization used by at least two major human rights groups. For saying that “unthinkable atrocities” must be condemned, no matter who commits them — America, Israel, Hamas, Afghanistan or the Taliban. And for characterizing the 9/11 terrorist attacks as “some people did something.”


(On this last point, it’s important to clarify that she was not downplaying the attacks, but describing the anti-Islamic fervor that gripped the country in the aftermath in a speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The group, she noted, was founded after 9/11 “because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”)

Keeping Omar on the Foreign Affairs Committee, said McCarthy, “puts America in jeopardy, and I’m not going to do that on my watch.” In a fundraising appeal Friday morning, he defended the move, warning that Omar’s words “directly imperil our alliance with our #1 ally in the Middle East: Israel.”

How, exactly, does her contrarian view about Israel endanger the U.S. more than, say, voting against certifying the results of a free and fair presidential election, as 139 of McCarthy’s Republican House colleagues did, or giving carte blanche to Vladimir Putin by threatening to cut off military aid to Ukraine, as his MAGA faction is doing? McCarthy doesn’t say.

Fulfilling a pledge, Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s GOP-led House narrowly votes to oust Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

Feb. 2, 2023

That’s because Omar’s ejection is, as House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) put it, “an act of political revenge.” It‘s tit-for-tat payback for the House having stripped extremist GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Paul Gosar of Arizona of their committee assignments two years ago for antagonistic and violent social media posts directed at Democratic colleagues.

“Do not insult our intelligence by saying this is about antisemitism,” said California Democratic Rep. Adam B. Schiff, whom McCarthy unilaterally banished from the House Intelligence Committee for the sin of leading the first impeachment against then-President Trump, though the speaker pretended it was to make the country safer. (From what? Who knows.)

Like plenty of their Republican colleagues, Greene and Gosar have a history of repeating antisemitic tropes without consequences.


And so, for that matter, does McCarthy, who accused three Jewish billionaire philanthropists — George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer — of trying to “buy” the 2018 midterm elections. That tweet, which McCarthy later deleted, was posted the day after authorities discovered a pipe bomb in the mailbox at Soros’ New York home.

Greene, for her part, came to Congress as a full-fledged QAnon conspiracy nut, before blaming her involvement on naiveté and trusting the internet just a little too much.

In 2018, she infamously speculated that American wildfires were caused by space lasers to benefit PG&E , Rothschild, Inc. and then-California Gov. Jerry Brown, whose proposed high-speed rail route was (according to her Facebook post) exactly where the fires were burning. (As far as I can tell, she never actually used the phrase “Jewish space lasers,” but that’s certainly what her post was getting at.)

The same year, Greene shared a video claiming that “Zionist supremacists” were conspiring to flood Europe with migrants to replace white people.

Yet now, having supported McCarthy as speaker, she is his BFF.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican, had a baseless theory for what caused the 2018 Camp fire in California that killed 85 people: a space laser.

Jan. 30, 2021

“I will never leave that woman. I will always take care of her,” McCarthy told a friend, who repeated the statement to the New York Times in a story about the pair’s unlikely alliance.

Gosar, with years-long ties to white nationalist groups, once accused Soros, who escaped the Nazi occupation of Hungary, of being a Nazi collaborator. Gosar also claimed that the deadly 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville was created by the left and funded by Soros as a “false flag” operation.


Kicking Omar off the Foreign Affairs Committee is an act of appeasement toward some powerful pro-Israel groups, as if American elected representatives have no right to criticize a foreign power with a demonstrably dismal record on human rights. It is also a sop to the House MAGA Republican bloc, which has been out for Omar’s blood ever since she first took office in 2017 as the first Somali American to serve in Congress, and certainly the first representative ever to have lived in a Kenyan refugee camp.

The family of Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar is torn apart by his extremist views

Feb. 22, 2021

And of course, it is an act of all too predictable hypocrisy on the part of the new House speaker who has sold his soul to the House’s extreme right faction.

In typical fashion, however, Omar was unbowed.

“My leadership and voice will not be diminished,” she said on the House floor. “If I am not on this committee for one term, my voice will get louder and stronger and my leadership will be celebrated around the world as it has been. So take your votes or not. I am here to stay and I am here to be a voice against harms around the world and advocate for a better world.”

After the vote, Jeffries tweeted that he would “move immediately” to seat Omar on the House Budget Committee.

There, he wrote, “she will defend Democratic values against right-wing extremism.”

Given the House leadership’s enchantment with the extreme right, her work is certainly cut out for her.