US Democrat Ilhan Omar visited PoK, often criticised India. Now she has been ousted from powerful foreign affairs panel

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was removed from Foreign Affairs Committee for her anti-Semitic remarks. But she is known to intervene in New Delhi’s affairs. Last year, she visited Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and passed a resolution condemning human rights violations against minorities in India

FP Explainers February 03, 2023 16:04:05 IST
US Democrat Ilhan Omar visited PoK, often criticised India. Now she has been ousted from powerful foreign affairs panel

US Democrat Ilhan Omar was removed from the Foreign Affairs Committee for her anti-Semitic views. AP

United State Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is a divisive figure. The Democrat, who has often been slammed for her anti-Semitic comments, has been ousted from a powerful panel. The US House of Representatives voted on Thursday to remove Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee in a move seen by her party as revenge for their removal of far-right Republicans.

Former Somali refugee Omar, the third Democrat to be stripped of committee assignments by Republicans this year, has made several comments critical of Israel since 2012 which have been slammed from all quarters, reports AFP.

“I am a Muslim, I’m an immigrant and, interestingly, I’m from Africa,” the 40-year-old Minnesota progressive said in a defiant floor speech ahead of her removal from the Foreign Affairs Committee. “Is anyone surprised that I’m being targeted? Is anyone surprised that I am somehow deemed unworthy to speak about American foreign policy?”

Omar is vocal but controversial not only in the US but also in India.

Also read: Explained: Why Republicans ousted Ilhan Omar from powerful Foreign Affairs House committee

Who is Ilhan Omar?

Born in Somalia, Omar and her family fled the country’s civil war when she was eight. The family spent four years in a refugee camp in Kenya before coming to the United States in the 1990s. In 1997, she moved to Minneapolis with her family.

Her grandfather inspired her to join politics. Before her political career, she worked as a community educator at the University of Minnesota, was a Policy Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and served as a Senior Policy Aide for the Minneapolis City Council.

She made history in January 2019 when she became the first African refugee to become a Member of Congress, the first woman of colour to represent Minnesota, and one of the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress.

US Democrat Ilhan Omar visited PoK often criticised India Now she has been ousted from powerful foreign affairs panel

Ilhan Omar’s ouster is seen by her party chiefs as revenge for their previous removal of far-right Republicans. AP

Since then, she has been a proponent of immigration. She supports policies like greater healthcare coverage and more background checks for gun buyers.

However, her anti-Semitic comments have often got her in trouble. In 2019, she apologised for suggesting Republican support of Israel was fueled by donations from a pro-Israeli lobby group.

Five years earlier, before entering Congress, she said Israel had “hypnotised the world,” and urged people to open their eyes to the US ally’s “evil doings”. She has since said she was unaware at the time of the anti-Semitic tropes.

Also read: Explained: Why Ilhan Omar, who has upset India, is a controversial figure in the US

What about India?

Omar has miffed Indians time and again, often interfering in the country’s matters and rubbing New Delhi the wrong way.

US Democrat Ilhan Omar visited PoK often criticised India Now she has been ousted from powerful foreign affairs panel

Ilhan Omar has been critical of India several times. She has spoken out against Article 370 and the National Register of Citizens. AFP

A resolution to condemn rights violations in India

On 22 June 2022, she introduced a resolution to condemn human rights violations in India, specifically those targeting Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, Adivasis, and “other religious and cultural minorities”, as per a press release by her office.

The resolution called on the US Secretary of State to designate India as a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act, a move that can lead to economic sanctions in extreme cases. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a consultative government body, has been recommending this designation for the past three years, said Omar.

The visit to PoK

In April last year, she visited Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, sparking widespread condemnation from New Delhi. The move was seen as a tacit endorsement of Pakistan and its state support for terrorism in the region. India also saw the trip as a violation of its territorial integrity for “narrow political gains”.

“We have noted that US Representative Ilhan Omar has visited a part of the Indian Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir that is currently illegally occupied by Pakistan. If such a politician wishes to practice her narrow-minded politics at home, that may be her business. But violating our territorial integrity and sovereignty in its pursuit makes it ours. This visit is condemnable,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said last year.

The US too distanced itself from Omar, who said during her visit that “Kashmir should get more attention” from the US. She also met former Pakistan prime minister Imran Khan and the two reportedly discussed Islamaphobia.

Derek Chollet, the counsellor to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, had told news agency ANI that it was an “unofficial personal visit” and it did not “represent any policy change on behalf of the United States government”.

Slamming Article 370

In 2019, she was overtly critical of the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370, which gave special status to Jammu and Kashmir. Following the lockdown and communications blackout in the region imposed in Kashmir, she demanded the “immediate restoration of communication.

Going after an Indian journalist

At a US Congressional hearing on human rights in South Asia on human rights in the same year, the Democrat went after Indian journalist Aarti Tikoo Singh on the matter, accusing her of being partisan.

Speaking up against NRC

Omar voiced her opposition against the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam in October 2019.

During the House Foreign Affairs Committee hearings on human rights in South Asia, she had said that US’ partnership with India “based on values” had been threatened due to the Modi government’s “Hindu nationalism project”.

She told the hearing then. “In Assam, almost two million people are being asked to formally prove their citizenship… There’ve been official statements to the effect that no Buddhist, Christian, Sikh or Jain refugees need to worry about their status, so this is clearly an anti-Muslim programme”

With inputs from agencies

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