- Both Democrats and Republicans, including right-leaning pro-Israel groups, condemned the Israeli government’s decision to bar Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel on Thursday.
- “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) wrote in a statement.
- Omar released her own statement on Thursday afternoon, equating Israel’s move with Trump’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries, which she called a “Muslim ban.”
- Similarly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement said, “Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.”
- Meanwhile, former US officials have suggested this move is part of a broader, myopic trend with Trump and Netanyahu that will do long-term damage to US-Israel relations.
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Both Democrats and some Republicans, including right-leaning pro-Israel groups, condemned the Israeli government’s decision to bar Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel on Thursday.
“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution,” the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most powerful pro-Israel lobbying group, wrote in a statement that referred to the boycott, divest and sanction movement against Israel’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
President Donald Trump publicly urged the Israeli government to bar Omar and Tlaib shortly before the Israeli government announced their decision on Thursday.
“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” Trump tweeted.
Democrats condemned the move, which was a reversal from Israel’s announcement last month that it “wouldn’t bar any American lawmakers from entering “out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
Omar and Tlaib are strident critics of US-Israel policies who support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to punish Israel over its treatment of the Palestinian people, an Israeli broadcaster reported Thursday morning. Israel passed a law in 2017 banning the entry of foreign nationals who publicly support any boycott of the Jewish state or its West Bank settlements.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer warned Israel’s move would “only hurt the US-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America.”
“No democratic society should fear an open debate,” he said in a statement.
Omar released her own statement on Thursday afternoon, equating Israel’s move with Trump’s travel ban targeting majority-Muslim countries, which she called a “Muslim ban.”
“The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation,” she said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another member of the freshman “Squad” of progressive congresswomen, similarly laid blame on Trump.
“Netanyahu choosing to ban the only 2 Muslim women in Congress from entering tells the US that only *some* Americans are welcome to Israel, not all,” she tweeted. “Trump is exporting his bigotry & making matters worse.”
Similarly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in a statement said, “Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.”
Pelosi went on to describe Trump’s statements about the lawmakers as a “sign of ignorance and disrespect” and “beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who said he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, in a statement said that refusing entry to Omar and Tlaib is “outrageous, regardless of their itinerary or their views.”
“The action the Israeli government has taken is wrong. I urged Prime Minister Netanyahu, when I spoke to him yesterday, to allow Rep. Tlaib and Rep. Omar’s visit to go forward,” Hoyer added. “I call on the Prime Minster to reconsider this decision.”
“Netanyahu is stoking division and punishing dissent just like the occupant of the White House,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley, a fellow progressive freshman, said in a Thursday statement. “[Omar and Tlaib] are duly elected members of Congress and we cannot allow them to be marginalized, discriminated against, nor targeted because of their gender, their religious beliefs, nor their ethnicity. That is not who we are as a country and we should reevaluate our relationships with any country who seeks to ban Americans and threatens the safety of anyone, including government officials.”
‘A slap in the face’
The Democratic Majority for Israel, a pro-Israel group, said in a statement that “there is simply no excuse for any country, including Israel, to prevent travel by elected officials of the United States,” despite the group’s disagreements with Omar and Tlaib.
Meanwhile, former US officials have suggested this move is part of a broader, myopic trend with Trump and Netanyahu that will do long-term damange to US-Israel relations.
“There are any number of foreign governments, Israel among them, that have made a risky, short-term investment in President Trump. When the dust settles, I have every expectation they’ll realize that the short-term gains were illusory and the damage to the bilateral relationship will be long-lasting,” Ned Price, a former spokesman for the National Security Council during the Obama administration, told INSIDER.
“Bibi’s move is an affront to elected American lawmakers, but, perhaps even more importantly, it’s also a slap in the face to the US-Israeli alliance,” Price added. “He and President Trump together have inflicted great damage on the relationship that won’t be able to be repaired overnight.”
Dan Shapiro, who served as the US ambassador to Israel from 2011 to 2017, echoed these sentiments. In a tweet responding to Trump’s statement that urged Israel to block Tlaib and Omar, Shapiro said, “You could not ask for clearer evidence that Trump wants to destroy the bipartisan basis of the US-Israel relationship. Some friend.”
In a separate tweet, Shapiro added, “It appears that pressure from Trump had a big hand in this decision. But he cares nothing about strengthening the bipartisan basis of the US-Israel relationship. Israel should.”
Since Trump entered the White House, his close relationship with Netanyahu has consistently been a subject of controversy.
As Netanyahu has increasingly pandered to the far right in Israel – embracing an extremist political party that Middle East experts have compared to the Ku Klux Klan – Trump has made a series of moves favorable to the Israeli prime minister’s agenda. This includes the decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem as well as recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel, both of which broke decades of US policy toward Israel.
Netanyahu is up for re-election next month after he was dealt a devastating political blow in May when Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve parliament after he failed to form a coalition government following April’s national elections.
In this context, some experts feel Netanyahu and Trump are putting politics and personal gain ahead of what’s beneficial for the US and Israel down the line.
“What Trump and Netanyahu have done is appalling. Both are sending an unmistakable message that they do not respect our system of government, the will of our people, or the principle of free speech. Trump is violating his oath of office and impeding the Article 1 powers of members of Congress. Both he and Netanyahu are placing party before the national interests of the country they serve,” David Rothkopf, CEO of The Rothkopf Group, told INSIDER. “It is despicable and it will do lasting damage to the relationship.”
Rothkopf said Netanyahu is “doing irreparable damage to Israel by recasting its historical ‘special relationship’ with the US as an alliance with just one US political party” while simultaneously “confirming criticisms that he is leading an authoritarian shift in Israel.”
Unless the situation is resolved and both lawmakers are offered a formal apology and welcomed to Israel, Rothkopf said no member of Congress should visit Israel and legislative matters pertaining to Israel – including the allocation of funds – should be tabled.
Republicans were split on the issue. While some, including conservative Texas Rep. Chip Roy, spoke out in defense of Israel’s decision, others were critical. Roy argued that Omar and Tlaib made “a political show of their trip” and weren’t interested in engaging with Israel.
“I stand fully with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Israel regarding their right to deny admittance of anyone who advocates against the interests of Israel,” Roy tweeted.
But Sen. Marco Rubio, an outspoken critic of Omar and Tlaib, called Israel’s decision a “mistake” that the Democrats would use to their political advantage.