Last week, the Democrats controlling the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives just elevated Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) to a committee’s leadership position. She will be now vice-chairing the committee’s Africa panel as she starts to climb the political ladder within the House of Representatives.
Nevertheless, it appears that the leadership of the Democratic Party has either forgotten or ignored the many times their newly appointed vice-chairwoman has either served as an apologist for tyrannies, refused to condemn genocides, or made some thinly-veiled antisemitic claims.
Omar has had a checkered record -to say the least- when asked about Human Rights violations in many autocracies throughout the world. She has proven time and time again to have a rather ambiguous standard when talking about the issue, standing against the obvious human rights violations occurring in Saudi Arabia, while remaining ambiguous when asked about left-lead autocratic regimes across the world. Hypocrisy is a common coin in politics, but we still need to call it out.
Ilhan Omar’s despicable approach to Venezuela
Rep. Omar has a long history of being on the wrong side of the Venezuelan issue. First, she completely misconstrued the real political situation in the country when Special Envoy Elliott Abrams was questioned by the House Foreign Affairs Committee in 2019, asking Abrams if he would support “an armed faction within Venezuela that engages in war crimes, (…) genocide if you believed they were serving US interests” when the Venezuelan government, not the opposition, is the one who has deployed death squads throughout the country.
She also called the protests in 2019 a “US-backed coup” and labeled the opposition (lead by mainly center-left parties) as “far-right.” She has also called the sanctions imposed by the U.S. on the Venezuelan regime “bullying” and said they “helped lead the devastation of Venezuela.” While she has spent much time criticizing the U.S. strategy on Venezuela, she has failed to be equally vocal against the human rights violations happening in Venezuela.
In 2019, she asked Abrams if he would support armed groups if they were serving U.S. interests. I think the fair question to ask is if she would condemn the very death squads if an ideological ally is supporting them.
Not condemning the Armenian Genocide
In October 2019, the House of Representatives passed HR 296, which commemorated the Armenian Genocide of 1915-1917, where almost 1.5 million Armenians lost their lives to the actions of the then government of Turkey and rejected the efforts of some groups to deny the genocide. For obvious reasons, both parties widely supported the resolution and got approved with a final vote of 405-11.
The vote was so bipartisan that even progressive darling Rep. Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and conservative rising star Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) voted in favor of the measure. It says a lot that even AOC, who also has her record of ambiguous statements towards left-lead autocracies, voted for the resolution. After all, it should not be that hard to denounce a genocide, right?
Well, apparently, for vice-chair Omar this bill was one bridge too far. She was one of the three representatives who decided to vote “not present” on the resolution. Let that sink in: When asked directly to condemn a well-documented genocide of almost 100 years old, Rep. Omar thought the right thing to do was letting us know that she was physically present in the chamber.
She later defended herself by saying that she opposed the “timing and context of the bill” as it suited some “political interests.” Well, Rep. Omar, almost the entire Democratic Party seemed to have no problem at all with condemning genocide while you were too much focused on the political timing of the bill. As expected, she received a slew of criticism for this vote, including the NBA Turkish player Enes Kanter, who called her vote “an absolute disappointment”
Nevertheless, this vote makes sense once you know that Rep. Omar has had previous connections with Turkish dictator Erdogan, they even met once in 2017 when Omar was a state representative. In fact, her decision to not condemn the Armenian genocide was not the only vote where her coziness with Turkey was in full display, as she was the only democrat to vote against a bill designed at sanctioning Turkey after its attack to the Kurdish population in northern Syria.
Finally, Ilhan Omar has made a set of antisemitic claims during her political career. In February 2019, Omar insinuated that some pro-Israel political associations are pushing for “allegiance to a foreign country.” This charge, often called “dual-loyalty,” has been a common trope used by various antisemitic groups throughout history.
In fact, the comment was such a thinly-veiled antisemitic insult that Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), who chaired the Foreign Affairs Committee at the time, condemned her, saying that those comments were “outrageous and deeply hurtful” and that she was “invoking an anti-semitic slur.” This event happened a little time after the whole Democratic leadership rebuked Omar after she suggested that U.S. support for Israel was only based on money contributions by AIPAC.
Even worse, this was not the first time she had made some seriously antisemitic comments. In 2012, when she was running for state representative, she tweeted that “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” A terrible statement that, as explained by Bari Weiss in the New York Times, follows the terrible history of depicting Jewish people as “the hypnotic conspirator, the duplicitous manipulator.”
So, for those of you keeping count: Omar has defended or whitewashed the autocracy of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, failed to actively condemn the Armenian genocide when presented the opportunity in Congress, and has been denounced for antisemitic comments by her own party… Twice.
The Democratic Party was very vocal (wtih reason) at pressuring the GOP to censure or ostracize Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green due to the outrageous comments she made in the past and decided to strip her from all committee assignments. The only rational, coherent thing to do would be to follow that same standard when scrutinizing their own party colleagues. However, instead of punishing Omar for her past anti-semitic comments, the party leadership has raised her to a leadership position. Talk about hypocrisy.