Israel bars entry to outspoken US congresswomen

U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Jahana Hayes (D-CT) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listen during a Congressional Iftar event at the U.S. Capitol May 20, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Thursday that it will bar two Democratic congresswomen from entering the country ahead of a planned visit over their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement, a decision announced shortly after President Donald Trump tweeted that it would “show great weakness” to allow them in.

The move to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from visiting appeared to be unprecedented. It marked a deep foray by Israel into America’s bitterly polarized politics and a sharp escalation of Israel’s campaign against the international boycott movement.

The two newly-elected Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and have repeatedly sparred with Trump over a range of issues. Tlaib’s family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank, where she still has close relatives.

They had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian organization aimed at highlighting the plight of the Palestinians. It was not immediately clear if they had planned to meet with Israeli officials, and spokespeople for the two congresswomen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is “open to critics and criticism,” except for those who advocate boycotts against it.

“Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress,” Netanyahu charged. He said their itinerary “revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”

Omar denounced the decision as “an affront” and “an insult to democratic values.”

“This is not a surprise given the public positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump,” Omar said in a statement.

Shortly before the decision was announced, Trump had tweeted that “it would show great weakness” if Israel allowed them to visit. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” He went on to call the two congresswomen “a disgrace.”

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, endorsed the decision after it was made, saying Israel “has every right to protect its borders” against promoters of boycotts “in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons.”

Trump’s decision to urge a foreign country to deny entry to elected U.S. officials was a striking departure from the long-held practice of politicians from both parties of leaving their disputes at the water’s edge.

Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Congress denounced Israel’s decision.

Top ranking Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said it was a sign of weakness instead of strength and “will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America.” A close freshman colleague of the two lawmakers, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, said Israel’s move is “bigoted, short sighted and cruel.”

Israel has sought to combat the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions. The country passed a law permitting a ban on entry to any activist who “knowingly issues a call for boycotting Israel.”

Last month, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer had said Israel would not deny entry to any member of Congress.

The interior ministry said in statement Thursday that “the state of Israel respects the American Congress, in the framework of the close alliance between the two countries, but it’s unacceptable to allow the entrance to the country of those who wish to harm the state of Israel, especially during their visit.”

Israel said it would consider any request from Tlaib to visit relatives on humanitarian grounds.

Supporters of the boycott movement say it is a non-violent way to protest Israeli policies and call for Palestinian rights. Critics say the boycott movement aims to delegitimize Israel and ultimately erase it from the map, replacing it with a binational state.

Israel often hosts delegations of U.S. representatives and senators, who usually meet with senior Israeli officials as well as Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank. Israel controls entry and exit points to the West Bank, which it seized along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek these territories for their future state.

MIFTAH, the Palestinian organization that was set to host Tlaib and Omar in the West Bank, issued a statement saying that Israel’s decision was “an affront to the American people and their representatives” and “an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world.”

The move could further sharpen divisions among Democrats over Israel ahead of the 2020 elections. Republicans have amplified the views of left-wing Democrats like Tlaib and Omar to present the party as deeply divided and at odds with Israel. Democratic leaders have pushed back, reiterating the party’s strong support for Israel, in part to protect representatives from more conservative districts.

In July, the Democratic-led House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution against the BDS movement.

Tlaib and Omar have also been the target of repeated attacks by President Donald Trump in recent months, including a series of racist tweets on July 14 in which he said they should “go back” to the “broken” countries they came from. Both are U.S. citizens and Tlaib was born in the United States. The two are members of the so-called “Squad” of newly-elected left-wing Democrats, along with Pressley and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Dan Shapiro, U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama, said that he knew of “no such precedent” for Israel barring an elected American official from entering the country, calling the decision “short-sighted.”

“There’s no reason to prevent members of Congress, including critical ones, from coming, seeing and learning, offering them every possible briefing,” Shapiro said. “By refusing them entry, it will only fuel the very things that Israel claims to be unhappy about” when it comes to calls for boycotts.

Arthur Lenk, formerly Israel’s ambassador to South Africa, said barring Omar and Tlaib “would be sinking us deeper into U.S. domestic political quagmire.”

Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of Arab parties, also criticized the move, writing that “Israel has always banned Palestinians from their land and separated us from other Palestinians, but this time the Palestinian is a U.S. Congresswoman.”

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, I-Grand Rapids, tweeted Israel should stand up to Trump.

 

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11 comments

  • lml25

    Now they just have to ban their big,fat,ungrateful mouths out of the USA and we’d have something. AOC too and a few of the Black Caucus lol. Put me in charge of that task. How does israel get away with that?Interesting turn of events.

  • J.B.

    Awww come on!
    Let these Morons come and bad mouth you and call Israel a bunch of racist bigots from inside of your own country.
    We do!

  • steve

    The Israelis want keep trash out, not invite it in. Unlike the United States, they’re smart enough to know that it’s better to avoid a problem in the first place than to fix one after it’s been created..

  • Alexander

    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu:

    No country in the world respects America and the American Congress more than the State of Israel.

    As a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prohibit the entry of people who seek to harm the country. In fact, in the past the US did this to an Israeli member of Knesset, as well as to other public figures from around the world.

    Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress. Only a few days ago, we received their itinerary for their visit in Israel, which revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy. For instance: they listed the destination of their trip as Palestine and not Israel, and unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have visited Israel, they did not request to meet any Israeli officials, either from the government or the opposition.

    A week ago, Israel warmly welcomed some 70 Democratic and Republican members of Congress, who expressed broad bipartisan support for Israel, which was also demonstrated a month ago in a resounding bipartisan vote against BDS in Congress.

    However, the itinerary of the two Congresswomen reveals that the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it.

    In addition, the organization that is funding their trip is Miftah, which is an avid supporter of BDS, and among whose members are those who have expressed support for terrorism against Israel.

    Therefore, the minister of interior has decided not to allow their visit, and I, as prime minister, support his decision.

    Nonetheless, if Congresswoman Tlaib submits a humanitarian request to visit her relatives, the minister of interior has announced that he will consider her request on the condition that she pledges not to act to promote boycotts against Israel during her visit.

  • C

    When, if ever, will these ‘look at me’ skanks going to figure out that Israel has declared them persona non grata and if they want to keep them from entering their country that every right to do so? If the Democrats have any brains at all, they ought to pray that in the 2020 election this pair and the other two that make up the Fraud Four, get there butts kicked.

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