A brazen violation - GulfToday

A brazen violation

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Ilhan Omar

The removal by Republican majority leader Kevin McCarthy of the sole Muslim woman of colour, Ilhan Omar, from the US House of Representatives’ Committee on Foreign Affairs was a blow against Muslims, women, minority citizens and US democracy. The action was Islamophobic, sexist, racist and undemocratic.

It was a flagrant violation of the sanctified First Amendment of the US Constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech, expression and association. The justification for her removal was her criticisms of Israel and its supine supporters in Congress.

By kicking out Omar, the Republicans deprived the committee of her informed input in the conduct of foreign policy and denied her constituency of rightful representation in the House. Omar has been elected to three two-year terms (2018, 2020, and 2022) by voters in the heavily Democratic fifth district in the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She succeeded Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to enter the House. While there is a significant Afro-American community in the district (16.6 per cent), the vast majority is white (63.6). Therefore, she is liked and respected by the majority of voters in the fifth, where Republicans have been unable to attract more than 40 per cent of the votes in more than half a century.

When McCarthy put her dismissal to a vote, all Republicans (2018) voted in favour, all Democrats against, making this issue a strictly partisan affair. Republicans have tried to compare her removal for controversial remarks about Israel and its Congressional backers to the denial of two Republicans seats on other House committees. However, there is no comparison. While Democrats had the majority, they removed Paul Paul Gosar from the House Ethnics Committee as he had posted a video on social media that showed him murdering New York Democrat Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Marjerie Taylor Greene was fired from her committees after approving violence against Democratic colleagues on social media.

The resolution urged Omar’s removal for suggesting in 2019 that Israel’s US political allies were motivated by money rather than political principle when she tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby.” (Since 1914, the face of founding father and inventor Benjamin Franklin has been on the $100 bill).

Omar was obliged to apoligise for this omment which was undiplomatic and impolitic, especially coming from a first term member of the House. However, she was correct. Pro-Israeli groups and lobyists contribute considerable funds to the election campaigns of US Congressmen and women while blackguarding critics of Israel.

Members of the House are particularly dependent on campaign finance because they are up for election every two years and they must court the good opinions of a broad array of interests and lobby groups. In addition to pro-Israeli groups and inviduals, there are coal, oil, pharmaceutical, medical, automotive, farm, environmental, arms and gun lobbies, to name a few of the most powerful. House members are under constant pressure from multiple interest groups to toe their diverse, different, and even conflicting lines whether they are constructive or damaging as far as the country and its citizens are concerned. Representatives have been charged with serving these powerful interests rather than their constituents.

Ilhan Omar, along with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, is a member of “the Squad,” along with Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who is of Palestinian heritage and the second Muslim woman in the House. While the four women were the core of this group of “progressives” another three women and two men have joined. All are from minority communities. They constitute the left-wing of the Democratic party and advocate Medicare for All and the Green New Deal and endorsed either Senator Bernie Sanders or Senator Elizabeth Warren for president in the 2020 election.

While Republicans consistently decry the Squad and seek to undermine it but its members have repeatedly won re-election. Donald Trump fired racist tweets at them before being removed from Twitter.

Born in Mogadishu, Somalia, in 1982, Ilhan Omar lived in Baidoa during her childhood. Her mother died when she was two and she was raised by her father, a colonel in the Somali army and a teacher, and grandfather, a civil servant. Both are moderate Sunni Muslims. They fled Somalia during the civil war and spent four years in a Kenyan refugee camp. They secured asylum in the US in 19955 and settled in Virginia before moving to Minnesota. She took her BA degree in political science from North Dakota State University and did further study at Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs before working as a nutrition educator and taking part in Democratic politics. She served in her state’s House of Representatives before securing a seat in the nation’s House, becoming the first Somali-American to take a seat in Congress. The ban against headcoverings in the House was revoked to accommodate Omar.

In July 2019, Omar and Tlaib and Georgia colleague the late JOhn Lewis introduced a resolution that holds “all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”

This amounted to a frontal challenge to the pro-Israel majority in the House and state legislatures which have sought to outlaw the Palestinian “Boycott, Divest, Sanction” movement targeting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and treatment of Palestinians. In early 2021, Omar led a group of 13 House members who brought articles of impeachment against Trump over his alleged interference in the 2020 presidential election in Georgia and incitement of the Jan.6, 2021, assault on the Capitol in Washington.

Little Wonder Republicans seek to leash Omar and the Squad.

Photo: TNS

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