Ilhan Omar is again in the news, a convenient target for reactionary Republicans, i.e., virtually all Republicans, seeking to discredit the left. The current Republican effort links her with two other Congressional liberal Democrats, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell who, like her, are being removed from their committee assignments by MAGA House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, in retaliation for Nancy Pelosi’s 2021 removals of Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar. McCarthy’s act of retribution comes as no surprise, since he promised this back in November 2021. It is no less dangerous for this.
As numerous commentators have noted, Greene and Gosar were sidelined by Pelosi because they explicitly promoted violence against House Democrats (it is worth noting that both also have been featured at anti-Semitic events and avidly supported the January 6, 2021 insurrection). Schiff and Swalwell are now being sidelined because of their roles in the impeachment of Donald Trump. And Omar is being sidelined because . . . she is Ilhan Omar, and thus low-hanging fruit for Trump’s Republican avengers and their many xenophobic and racist supporters.
What McCarthy is doing is one more sign that House Republicans plan to pursue a scorched-earth approach to “governing” over the next two years. It should be seen for what it is—a further assault on basic norms of political pluralism—and it should be denounced for this very reason.
It is good that Democrats now recognize that Ilhan Omar is both a Democrat and a democrat, a fellow citizen and an elected public leader whose views deserve to be heard and debated.
All three House Democrats ought to be defended together. It is heartening that they are being defended together by Democratic leaders, and that they are also speaking out, together, in their own defense, even if in the end McCarthy is getting away with his retribution.
At the same time, the case of Omar deserves special attention, because of the specific slanders associated with her identity as a Somalian immigrant and Islamic-American woman, the specific threats of violence that have long been leveled against her, and the specific hatred she has received because of her defenses of Palestinian rights.
Unfortunately, Congresswoman Omar has been subjected to this demonization ever since she rose to prominence as a newly-elected member of the House in 2019. And unfortunately, few Democrats, and few mainstream journalists, have treated these attacks with the seriousness—and the criticism—they deserve.
Back in early 2019, I published three pieces taking Democratic leaders to task for this. The first, “The Attacks on Ilhan Omar Must Stop: Why Criticizing AIPAC is Not Anti-Semitism,” was published on February 11 in Public Seminar (as that controversy unfolded, I published two other pieces, here and here). Because every current slander against Omar first surfaced back then, I believe those pieces remain deeply relevant to this latest escapade. Virtually every single thing said there applies today, though it is now four years later and Kevin McCarthy is no longer the House Minority Leader but the House Speaker—which makes the situation that much more serious.
It is good that Democrats now recognize that Ilhan Omar is both a Democrat and a democrat, a fellow citizen and an elected public leader whose views deserve to be heard and debated. As House Democrats face a new kind of political debasement at the hands of McCarthy, Greene, and their confederates—together being demonized as “leftists” and “radicals” and together punished for their opposition to the far right–one can only hope that they will develop a stronger commitment to defending both liberal democratic procedures and robust democratic debate.