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

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has irked India with her visit to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Even back home, she has often kicked up a storm for her ‘anti-Semitic’ stand, 9/11 remarks, and more

“I am only controversial because people want controversy,” United States Congresswoman Ilhan Omar famously said in 2019.

Now Omar, who is known for her anti-India views, has ruffled feathers in New Delhi once again by visiting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (Pok). Omar is on a four-day visit to the neigbouring nation from 20 April to 24 April, where she met Pakistan’s newly elected Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the former premier Imran Khan, and also visited Muzaffarabad in PoK.

India has said that her “narrow-minded politics” violated its “territorial integrity and sovereignty”. “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,” said Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi.

America too has distanced itself from Omar, who said during her visit that “Kashmir should get more attention” from the US. Speaking to news agency ANI, Derek Chollet, counsellor to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “It’s an unofficial personal visit and it does not represent any policy change on behalf of the United States government.”

Omar has often riled up India in the past but even in her own country, she remains a controversial figure.

The Somali-American politician who belongs to US president Joe Biden’s democratic party made history when she won Minnesota’s fifth congressional district in November 2018. The mother of three, who was 37 then, became the first Somali-American, first African-born American, and one of the first two Muslim American women to serve in the US Congress.

While she has her fair share of admirers, there’s no dearth of critics, including former president Donald Trump. We take a look at the many controversies of Ilhan Omar.

Campaign funds misuse?

Omar has faced allegations of campaign finance violations in Minnesota. Back in 2019, National Legal & Policy Centre, a right-wing think thank alleged that she used campaign funds to finance her affair with a political consultant she later married.

Explained Why Ilhan Omar who has upset India is a controversial figure in the US

Ilhan Omar during a campaign with her husband Tim Mynett at the Richfield Farmers Market in Richfield, Minnesota. AFP

The think tank accused the Minnesota Democrat of illegally using campaign funds to pay for personal travel expenses for Tim Mynett, who runs the political consulting firm E Street Group, which was hired to work on Omar’s campaign. Mynett’s former wife Dr Beth Mynett had accused the politician of “stealing her husband”.

Campaign finance records revealed that the politician paid more than $369,000 to E Street between August 2018 and September 2019. However, the US Federal election commission dismissed the complaint in January 2022, reports The Independent.

Israel and the anti-Semitism row

The US Congresswoman has faced repeated accusations of anti-Semitism. In 2012, Omar had tweeted, “Israel has hypnotised the world” and in 2018 she wrote, “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews.”

Her tweets in February 2019 kicked up a political storm when she posted that American political leaders’ support for Israel is “all about the Benjamins”, suggesting a pro-Israel lobby was buying of UD politicians. She later apologised for her controversial tweets, which were called out by both Democrat and Republican leaders for being “anti-Semitic”.

Explained Why Ilhan Omar who has upset India is a controversial figure in the US

A political storm broke out over the question of whether the tweet was anti-Semitic.

But Omar continued to pass similar comments. Talking on a panel discussing the Israel-Palestine conflict a week after the tweetstorm, she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

The Democrat has not spelled out what this “political influence” is other than indicating to the pro-Israel lobby in general. But given her regular remarks, many observers believed she was playing into anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish attachments to Israel making them disloyal to the US.

Soon after, House Democrats unveiled plans to vote on a resolution condemning anti-Semitism that read as a clear rebuke of Omar personally, slamming the “insidious, bigoted history” of “accusations of dual loyalty”.

Pro-Palestine stand

Omar is unapologetically pro-Palestinian, making her the darling of the radical left, which is critical of the US administration’s pro-Israel view.

She has accused Israel of engaging in “terrorism” through their airstrikes that tragically killed civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Her run-ins with the US administration are all too common. In June 2021, she tweeted that “we have seen unthinkable atrocities committed by the US, Hamas, Israel, Afghanistan, and the Taliban”. Her comment likening the US and Israel to Hamas and Taliban earned the ire of Democratic colleagues.

“Equating the United States and Israel to Hamas and the Taliban is as offensive as it is misguided,” said a group of Jewish lawmakers back then.

9/11 controversy

In March 2019, Omar’s speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), outraged the nation. She said, “Far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen, and frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it…CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

Her speech was factually incorrect, as CAIR was founded in June 1994 in response to growing anti-Muslim discrimination and Islamophobia. However, “some people did something” stuck with America, especially those affected by the 9/11 attacks.

Omar vs Trump

Former US president Donald Trump has been Omar’s most vocal critic, demanding her resignation and targeting her on more than one occasion.

Trump distorted her comments about 9/11 in a Twitter video insinuating that she supported terrorists. She received hundreds of death threats, according to her office.

Explained Why Ilhan Omar who has upset India is a controversial figure in the US

The four Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, are popularly known as the Squad in the US. AFP

Omar and three other Congresswomen – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib (known as the Squad) – were highly critical of the border crisis in the US. Trump had lashed out against them in a series of racist tweets but he singled out the Minnesota Democrat during a rally in North Carolina with the crowds responding with chants of “send her back”.

While in office, he constantly attacked Omar’s Somali origins, even suggesting that she is not American. He had urged the US Justice Department to investigate the “Squad” member, repeating unsubstantiated allegations that she married her brother and migrated to the US illegally.

“She hates our country. She comes from a place that doesn’t even have a government, and then she comes here and tells us how to run our country,” he had said.

Omar no longer has to deal with Trump, but she continues to be controversy’s favourite child. Not a woman to mince her words, she was recently criticised for mocking a video of passengers singing a piece of gospel music on a flight. In a retweet, she said that the next time she should hold a prayer meeting on a plane.

We don’t put it past her. She wears her faith on her sleeve. Rules were changed in 2019 to allow Omar to wear the hijab on the floor of the House.

That’s Ilhan Omar for you – loved by the far-left, hated by the right, grabbing headlines wherever she goes.

With inputs from agencies

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