It was a long time coming. Republicans have been periodically threatening to kick Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) off the House Foreign Affairs Committee since the first year she was on it, and with their new House majority, they finally got their wish this week.
The ostensible reason is the same they gave back in 2019, namely, that Omar’s criticisms of Israel and its influential US lobby are supposedly antisemitic. The actual reason is that in her few short years on the committee, Omar has been an unusually principled critic of US foreign policy, and has dared to demand what’s unthinkable in Washington: that the US government act on the world stage consistent with its stated values and the rhetoric of its officials.
If you listened to Omar’s critics, the congresswoman is guilty of everything from antisemitism to holding a “bias against India” to secretly doing the bidding of the Muslim Brotherhood. These accusations ought to clue us in on what’s really going on here. Besides the unique nature of her personal background that’s made her a magnet for these and other scurrilous attacks, Omar’s made a lot of enemies by using her perch on the Foreign Affairs Committee to bring up thorny questions and criticisms rarely aired in the halls of Congress. Even Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), a congressman on the polar opposite of the political spectrum, felt obligated to acknowledge her effectiveness.
“Go watch Ilhan Omar question Elliott Abrams on the Foreign Affairs Committee about the neoconservative policies that were very detrimental in South America,” he told Fox News. Gaetz has also admitted that the reason House Republicans were trying to shunt her off the committee was because they don’t like what she has to say.”
In the quote above, Gaetz was referring to the time that Omar used her position on the committee to grill war criminal Elliott Abrams, then the point man for the Trump administration’s regime-change effort in Venezuela. Abrams’s displayed palpable shock at the fact that an elected official was actually publicly bringing up his history of misleading Congress, and his praise for horrendous human rights abuses by US-backed forces — not to mention her audacity in asking him if he was once more planning to look the other way as atrocities were committed. There’s little chance Abrams would’ve gotten this kind of treatment from any other congressperson. After all, the decorum of the institution requires that, while it is permissible to commit high crimes and enable human rights abuses, calling them out is simply going too far.
Omar was the first lawmaker to call the 2019 Bolivian coup what it was, something that’s still somehow a rare act in Congress. She later called out both the Trump administration’s enabling of the coup, and helped pressure the Organization of American States from engaging in similar shenanigans in later Bolivian elections.
The reason Omar’s been accused of having an anti-Indian bias is her outspokenness about the human rights abuses of the Indian government under Narendra Modi, its “Hindu nationalism project,” and its religious discrimination. Sometimes that’s involved butting heads with US officials, at a time when bipartisan administrations have sought to deepen ties with India despite the Modi government’s transgressions, as part of the Blob’s overriding anti-China project.
That’s the same reason the Saudi establishment accuses her of being secretly in cahoots with the Muslim Brotherhood. Omar has said that “valuing human rights also means applying the same standards to our friends and our enemies,” and that the United States should “hold all of our allies to the same international standards as our enemies” — inherently threatening to the Saudi government, which in large part has depended on the US government expressly not acting this way. In fact, she’s said explicitly that “we cannot continue to turn a blind eye to repression in Saudi Arabia” given that it’s “ranked among the worst of the worst human rights offenders,” and has, among other things, called out in hearings the Saudi government’s promotion of Wahhabist ideology and its funding of international terrorism — still a heavily taboo subject in the Washington establishment.
The fact that the Foreign Affairs Committee has influence over US arms sales has made her seat there particularly worrying to some. Over the years, Omar has introduced resolutions disapproving and outright blocking US arms sales to Saudi Arabia. Equally infuriating to her critics is that she’s been consistent, at one point signing onto a letter backed by her mortal enemy, American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC; as well as Saudi Arabia), supporting an arms embargo against Iran — because she “has consistently, for a long time, supported arms embargos against human rights abusers,” as her office explained. In the same vein, she’s spoken, correctly, about the undue, typically financial, influence the Saudi establishment has over the US political system, likening it to pro-Israel forces’ similar influence.
Are there things one can criticize Omar for? Of course. She’s voted for a military aid package to Israel despite having previously called for placing conditions on aid to the country, and she was also the only one of the “Squad” to vote for creating Congress’s new anti-China select committee, further feeding into the dangerous new Cold War against the country, to name a couple things.
But even this very inadequate summary of Omar’s record suggests why she’s viewed as so threatening by the GOP and the US foreign policy establishment: a Muslim, refugee woman who calls out not just US establishment hypocrisy, but the human rights abuses of both rival Islamic autocracies and US partners like Israel alike. It’s no surprise she had to go.