The vote against Ilhan Omar does a disservice to Jews – and the fight against antisemitism

Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, ever flirtatious with his party’s fanatic wing, gave them the ultimate gift Thursday, stripping Representative Ilhan Omar, a lightning rod for far-right ire, of her congressional committee assignments.

The vote came as no surprise — GOP congress members have long held a grudge over a similar move taken by Democrats, which ousted Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar from their committees. The two had posted imagery encouraging violence against Democrats and espoused conspiracy theories.

Marjorie Taylor Greene on Homeland Security Committee?: Big day for conspiracy theorists.

So, what is the charge against Omar? She’s an anti-Semite, Republicans say, citing the representative's previous comments on Israel. Let’s discuss it.

What were Ilhan Omar's 'antisemitic' remarks?

In February 2019, Omar took to Twitter to criticize AIPAC — the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – a powerful political lobby aimed at bolstering U.S. support for the state of Israel. In her posts she implied lobbyists were paying lawmakers, quipping ‘it’s all about the Benjamins.’

The outrage was swift on both sides of the aisle. Democrats and Republicans alike characterized the remarks as hurtful, playing into a well-worn trope about Jews and money. Rep. Omar then apologized.

Opinions in your inbox: Get exclusive access to our columnists and the best of our columns throughout the week

The world moved on: So, why haven’t the Republicans? The answer is that it’s an act. They don’t care about antisemitism just as they don’t care about other strains of religious and ethnic hate, whether it be anti-Muslim bias or the callous treatment of migrants from Central and South America.

They needed something to blame, and I am begging American Jews, don’t let them use us. Because we are a convenient political prop does not mean they are or have ever been in our corner.

Republicans fake rage

Republicans postured disavowal of hate feels awfully cheap given it was a riot incited by Trump, their party’s president, the presumptive GOP nominee for 2024 incidentally, that saw blatant Nazi symbolism worn into the halls of the Capitol.

The very representative whom Republicans hope to avenge with this move – Marjorie Taylor Greene – blamed Jewish space lasers for wildfires, and likened wearing a mask to donning a yellow Jewish star. If I'm not mistaken Rep. George Santos, who falsely claimed to be Jewish and the descendent of Holocaust survivors at that, has failed to be disavowed by McCarthy himself.

Indifference in the face of all of this cuts to the very marrow of the issue: Republicans hope to smear Representative Omar, not to make a statement against hate. To let them do so is a grave moral mistake.

'I don't know how we survived': A new generation of antisemitism we thought was behind us

MLK embraced Jewish people: Remember that as antisemitism rises.

In the fight against antisemitism, it is vital to make sure people know what it is. The edges can be easily blurred giving rise to confusion and even legitimate debate.

They ignore Omar's apology

I confess, as a Jewish person, I was not deeply offended by Omar's remarks. I assumed she was referring to the lobbyist's money, not my own. That does not mean that others cannot take legitimate issues with her phrasing. The tether that many, but not all American Jews share with Israel is complicated. I would venture that Omar not only understands, but respects that far more than the Greenes and Gosars of the world ever will.

Whether you think what she said was offensive or not the important part is that she apologized. She acknowledged a willingness to listen and learn. In that vein, I ask who among us has not been unintentionally clumsy with a culture that is not our own, perhaps unaware of its pain points.

Opinion alerts: Get columns from your favorite columnists + expert analysis on top issues, delivered straight to your device through the USA TODAY app. Don't have the app? Download it for free from your app store.

Omar has been a vocal advocate for progress and acceptance – values that serve the Jewish people. She herself has been the target of highly offensive, ethnically motivated attacks from Republican leaders. This is not a woman unacquainted with prejudice. She speaks strongly against the Israeli government – so do many of us.

With the recent marking of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I want to remind you what hate really looks like.

So when Republicans rise to the pulpit and pontificate on the ‘power of rhetoric’ using it as a cudgel to force Omar out of important government business, we can object. And if they want to find a group to use as a convenient excuse to justify their own brand of hate, we can tell them they better shop around.

Anna Kaufman is a trending and SEO reporter for USA TODAY.

You can read diverse opinions from our Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to a column, submit a comment to

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Is Ilhan Omar being ousted over Israel comments or is it just GOP act?