When an overwhelming majority of members wanted Congress to pass a resolution supporting Israel in 2019, they were responding to the antisemitism of one of their own: Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.). But a handful of Democrats, primarily progressives and all allies of Omar, opposed the resolution vote.
One of them was Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.).
On Thursday, the GOP-controlled House voted to remove Omar, who has been repeatedly rebuked for her anti-Jewish statements by her own party, from the House Foreign Relations Committee. In a party-line 218-211 vote. Kuster and Rep. Chris Pappas both sided with Omar.
“Time and time again, Annie Kuster sides with notorious antisemite Ilhan Omar instead of our allies in Israel,” said NHGOP Chairman Chris Ager before the vote. “I can’t fathom how she’s going to justify voting to keep Omar on the Foreign Affairs Committee. Aren’t there any Democrats who aren’t antisemitic to serve instead?”
Kuster has been a high-profile political ally of Omar even as controversy has swirled around the Minnesota progressive. When party leaders were calling her out, Kuster came to her aid. According to Politico, Kuster “raised concerns, including in a tense meeting with top Democrats,” urging them not to bring the pro-Israel resolution to the floor. And when then-Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee, denounced her “vile, anti-Semitic slur,” suggesting Jewish supporters of Israel have divided loyalties, Kuster was silent.
Omar’s antisemitic statements and anti-Israel stances are well known. She has claimed the reason she is criticized for her anti-Israel positions — including supporting the antisemitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement — is because of the influence of Jewish money. “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby,” she tweeted. She has also claimed that, “Israel has hypnotized the world.”
During Thursday’s debate, New York GOP Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, who serves on the committee, argued that Omar had to go.
“As a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I’ve sat there and heard the representative actually spew anti-American rhetoric as well,” Malliotakis said of Omar. “I’ve been in that committee room where the representative equates Israel and the United States to Hamas and the Taliban. Absolutely unacceptable for a member of that committee.”
Asked about those statements by CNN last week, Omar claimed ignorance. “I wasn’t aware of the fact that there are tropes about Jews and money. That has been a very enlightening part of this journey,” Omar said. “To insinuate that I knowingly said these things when people have read into my comments to make it sound as if I have something against the Jewish community is so wrong.”
It was a claim many supporters of Israel find difficult to believe. “Democrat Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is not only an anti-Semite but also a bad liar,” said human rights activist Hananya Naftali.
Still, Kuster’s support for Omar has not waned. When Omar’s bigoted statements inspired the 2019 resolution to condemn antisemitism, neither Kuster nor Rep. Chris Pappas would publicly endorse it. Instead, they supported then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to abandon the resolution in favor of a watered-down condemnation of hatred in general — a move condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The New Hampshire Democratic Party has struggled with antisemitism in its own ranks. Just weeks after Omar’s high-profile comments, she was a featured speaker at a New Hampshire Democratic Party fundraiser. State Rep. Maria Perez (D-Milford) posted calls for the destruction of Israel on her social media feed. And the House Democratic Caucus overwhelmingly voted against a resolution expressing support for Israel, with some Democratic members labeling the nation an “apartheid state.”
And during a schism in the House caucus last year, several Jewish Democrats said there was a “climate of fear” among their ranks, fed by the antisemitic views of some progressive House members and activists. At one point, a progressive spokesperson referred to the backlash from the Jewish community as “kicking the termite’s nest,” echoing a highly-publicized statement by notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan, “I’m not an anti-Semite. I’m anti-termite.”
Three Democrats are being removed from the committees they had been assigned by their party: Omar and Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California. Democrats said it was a “revenge move” for Speaker Nancy Pelosi removing Republicans from committees in the last session. Republicans note Pelosi and her majority were the first to deny the minority party the right to make those decisions.
“The Democrats have created a new thing where they’re picking and choosing who could be on committee,” Rep. Kevin McCarthy said at the time. “Never in the history [of Congress] have you had the majority tell the minority who could be on committee.”
How does the state’s largest Jewish organization view Thursday’s events?
Despite Omar’s repeated public displays of antisemitism, the New Hampshire Jewish Federation declined repeated requests for comment on her status on the committee and the support she received from the state’s two members of Congress.