BDS-backer Ilhan Omar given seat on powerful House Foreign Affairs panel

Day after appearing to defend comment that Israel ‘hypnotized the world,’ Minnesota Democrat says she will use position to probe influence of foreign lobbies on Washington

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center, walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., center, walks through the halls of the Capitol Building in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar — who supports the boycott Israel movement and who once said that Israel “hypnotized the world” — was appointed to the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday.

The assignment, chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will give a vehement critic of the Jewish state a voice — and a vote — on the powerful panel that oversees US foreign policy and foreign aid.

The freshman Democratic legislator announced the posting on Twitter, saying the assignment would put her on a panel that “oversees all foreign assistance, national security affecting the country’s foreign policy, treaties, peacekeeping and war powers.”

While Omar did not mention Israel, she did stress her eagerness to work toward fundamentally changing America’s relationship with another Middle Eastern ally.

“We need to investigate how foreign governments and their lobbyists have violated our laws,” she said. “And we need to reign in arms sales to human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia.”

One of only two members of Congress who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel, Omar has accused the country of committing “evil.” “In 2012, amid an Israel-Hamas Gaza conflict, she tweeted: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel. #Gaza #Palestine #Israel.”

An Islamist terror group, Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from the Fatah faction of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a violent 2007 coup, seeks to destroy Israel.

On Wednesday, Omar appeared to defend the tweet and other anti-Israel views. “What is really important to me is that people recognize that there is a difference between criticizing a military action by a government that has exercised really oppressive policies and being offensive or attacking to particular people of faith,” she told CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., smiles during an interview following a photo opportunity on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018, with the freshman class. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Omar, a Somali-born refugee from Ethiopia, is part of a new wave of freshmen Democrats ascending the US Capitol after the 2018 midterm elections in which Democrats gained 40 seats in the House. Along with Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib, she is one of two members of Congress to back the BDS movement.

Omar’s appointment to the House foreign affairs panel was immediately panned by critics who say her criticisms of Israel amount to anti-Semitism.

“Rep. Ilhan Omar just doubled down on her claim that ‘Israel has hypnotized the world,’ calling its behavior ‘evil,’ tweeted Ronna McDaniel, head of the Republican National Committee. “But instead of denouncing it, Democrat leadership rewarded her with a spot on the House Foreign Relations Committee.”

The liberal Middle East advocacy group J Street, however, which opposes the BDS movement, defended Omar’s newfound position of influence.

“At a time when there are more displaced people in the world than ever before and the Trump administration has turned its back on them, I personally believe it’s a positive development to see @IlhanMN, who came to the US as a refugee, getting a seat on HFAC,” tweeted Jeremy Ben Ami, the organization’s president.

“Frankly, some of the commentary I’ve seen about @ilhanMN’s assignment has been disgusting,” he added. “I disagree w/ her stance on BDS. But the smears of her as an anti-Semite — or suggestions that she is somehow not fit to serve on the committee — are just plain wrong.”

The House Foreign Affairs Committee is the primary body within the House of Representatives responsible for oversight of the executive branch’s foreign policy, and for legislation relating to foreign policy. That means Washington’s relationship with Israel will be under her purview.

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a bilateral meeting at the Lotte New York Palace Hotel in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

The panel may also soon tackle legislation regarding the $3.8 billion in military aid given to Israel annually, as part of a 2016 agreement reached between the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government.

There is currently an effort by House lawmakers to pass a bill that would codify that memorandum of understanding into federal law.

It did not pass the last Congress, but its advocates have started to push for its passage in the new Congress that just convened several weeks ago, and have already introduced the legislation on the House floor.

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