Ilhan Omar and the GOP’s Islamophobia
By Prof. Hatem Bazian*
The GOP is back on the Islamophobia bandwagon again, not they have ever come off after Trump's defeat in the 2020 election. Long and behold, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN)is the major threat to America and the GOP agenda in Congress can’t be accomplished without making her the singular Islamophobic target in the new Congress.
Ilhan Omar (D-MN), a Somali refugee, black and wears the hijab (headscarf), which makes for the perfect Islamophobic target at the crossroads of GOP cultural, anti-immigrant, and anti-Black discourses. Islamophobia is the GOP tried and tested election strategy to stoke White voters fear and drive them to the ballot box. Even when Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was not in Congress, the GOP found ways to stoke bigotry and express Islamophobia to drive their base to the voting booth.
Cartoon by Ed Hall
Three Strikes you are out would be sufficient but Congresswoman Ilhan Omar also speaks; thus making her a home run target for the Islamophobes. Just watching all these White men and women speaking, and yelling at Ilhan Omar (D-MN) while never missing an opportunity to be racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic is something to behold. Just consider how George Soros, a Jewish man, is used by the GOP and before by Trump as a foil for everything “evil” in the country-American White supremacy and anti-Semitism of the GOP are good for elections! The same people who are attacking Congresswoman Omar are the ones that push the George Soros conspiracy in Congressional hearings but you will not find anyone from the GOP calling for their removal or objecting to it.
Have at it GOP Congress members, all the FOX talking heads, and rightwing media, who never miss an opportunity to push White Supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia with Ilhan Omar (D-MN)framed as the problem for the country! Singularly, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN), for the GOP and the right wing, serves as the focal point to drive White victimhood centering on the supposed loss of America to “non-American” or more accurately “non-White” people.
How dare Ilhan Omar (D-MN) be in the halls of Congress, dressed in the way she is with the Hijab and speaking on matters that are the preview of “real” Americans!
On February 2, 2023, the GOP-led Congress voted 218–211 to remove Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from the House Foreign Affairs committee assignment due to comments and actions related to Israel and AIPAC that were uttered a few years back. The vote was largely along party lines, with Republicans voting in favor of the removal and Democrats voting against it.
However, Omar’s removal from the committee was made possible by the Democratic Party leadership which initially put a resolution back in 2021 for the removal, which was defeated then by a national mobilization. On February 5, 2021, Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) would be removed from the House Foreign Affairs Committee. This decision came after Omar had made remarks about the pro-Israel lobby (AIPAC) and the role it plays in influencing elections.
At the time Ilhan Omar (D-MN) came under an intense attack for a tweet in which she accused U.S. politicians of being “bought off” by AIPAC money. The decision to remove Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee was met with criticism from some members of the Democratic Party, who accused Pelosi of caving to pressure from Republican and conservative groups. Omar herself released a statement in which she affirmed her commitment to fighting for justice and said she was “grateful for the opportunity to be a voice for the voiceless.”
The resolution on behalf of the GOP was introduced by Rep. Max Miller, (R-Ohio), one of two Republican Jewish Congress members, stating that Omar “has disqualified herself from serving on the Committee on Foreign Affairs, a panel that is viewed by nations around the world as speaking for Congress on matters of international importance and national security.” The resolution made the dubious claim that Omar “cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people.”
Here, the GOP, which has been a bastion of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia strikes two birds with one racist stone; cover-up its own deeply established racism toward Jews, then frame itself as a defender of Israel from Muslims; thus firming up Islamophobia in the political arena and foreign policy. Omar, who had been serving on the House Foreign Affairs Committee since 2019 and rightfully critical of Israel and Muslim majority states, becomes the singular person painted with an anti-Semitism brush while the GOP can claim defense of Israel in the US. Notice here, that the GOP is making the dubious claim of equating all Jews with Israel and any criticism of the country and its lobby arm is framed as anti-Semitism, a reductionist approach that is contested by many progressive Jews in the country.
Islamophobic ads funded by Robert Mercer to target White Voters so as to support the GOP in the lead-up to the U.S. 2016 general elections.
Omar’s removal from the House Foreign Affairs Committee marks a setback for activists around the country, the broader left in the U.S., and possibly for voices critical of Israel’s Apartheid policies. Omar’s removal from the committee is a reminder of the power of the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., its strong alignment with GOP, and the political pressure it can exert to get its way on Capital Hill. Omar’s removal is a warning signal to other progressives and activists who may be considering speaking out on issues related to Israel, AIPAC, and Palestine-you will face the same treatment.
During the debate on the floor of Congress, members of the Democratic Party defended Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and took issue with the Republican Party’s action. The debate in Congress centered on free speech and Omar’s comments being protected under the First Amendment but missing the point of the GOP Islamophobic strategy. Supporters of Omar argued that her comments were protected under the First Amendment, while GOP opponents argued that her comments were offensive and inappropriate for a member of Congress.
Ultimately, the vote to remove Omar from her committee assignment passed with all Republicans voting in favor and all Democrats voting against it. It remains to be seen how the vote to remove Omar from her committee assignment will affect her political career in the long run and whether criticism of Israel and AIPAC will take a back seat in her future legislative agenda. The critical question that must and should be asked is: Why criticism of Israel, a foreign country, and AIPAC, a lobby group that represents the interest of Israel in the U.S. should be the cause of removal of a duly elected member of Congress?
Prof. Hatem Bazian is Founder and Chairman of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), Executive Director of the Islamophobia Studies Center. Professor at Zaytuna College, and Lecturer in Middle Eastern Languages & Cultures & Asian Ameri. Studies at UC Berkeley.