US lawmakers censure Democrat Ilhan Omar over anti-Semitic remarks

Democratic Representative Ilhan Omar walks to her office after being ousted by the Republican-lead House of Representatives from serving on the Foreign Affairs Committee. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON - The US House of Representatives voted on Thursday to oust a controversial Democrat from a powerful committee over anti-Semitic comments, in a move seen by her party chiefs as revenge for their previous removal of far-right Republicans.

Former Somali refugee Ilhan Omar, the third Democrat to be stripped of committee assignments by Republicans this year, has made several comments critical of Israel since 2012 that were condemned on all sides.

“I am a Muslim, I’m an immigrant and, interestingly, I’m from Africa,” the 40-year-old Minnesota progressive said, in a defiant floor speech ahead of her removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“Is anyone surprised that I’m being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?“

The roughly party-line vote came after Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the top Republican in Congress, kept a campaign promise to deny seats on the prestigious the Intelligence Committee to Mr Adam Schiff, the panel’s last Democratic chairman, and Mr Eric Swalwell.

Mr McCarthy has argued that Democrats created a “new standard” when they were in control by ousting Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from committees after they promoted violence against political opponents.

Ms Omar, one of two Muslim women in Congress, apologised in 2019 for suggesting Republican support of Israel was fuelled by donations from a pro-Israeli lobby group.

Democrats, who were then in power in the House, initially mulled supporting a resolution to admonish her, but settled on text condemning anti-Semitism that did not mention her by name.

Five years earlier, before entering Congress, she said Israel had “hypnotised the world,” and urged people to open their eyes to the US ally’s “evil doings.”

She has since said she was unaware at the time of her remarks of the anti-Semitic tropes that invoke Israelis hypnotising people and connect Jews to money.

House Democratic minority leader Hakeem Jeffries told a news conference ahead of the vote that Ms Omar’s comments had already been dealt with.

“So this is not about accountability. It’s about political revenge,” he said.

The Democrats – supported by a handful of Republicans – voted in 2021 to punish Ms Greene for incendiary statements including repeated support for executing prominent Democrats.

Mr Gosar’s censure came after he posted an animated video manipulated to show him killing a left-wing congresswoman.

Both have spoken at a white nationalist conference, and Ms Greene apologised in 2021 for comparing mask-wearing rules in the US Capitol to the Holocaust.

The pair were given committee assignments after Republicans took back the House last month. AFP

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.