WASHINGTON — Some of the largest and most powerful pro-Israel groups and lawmakers in the U.S. are slamming Israel’s decision to bar two elected members of Congress from entering the country, a move that breaks decades of precedent that the U.S. relationship with Israel should transcend politics.
AIPAC, The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, voiced its disagreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to block Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from entering his country, an unheard-of public split with the country the group exists to defend.
“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. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” AIPAC said in a statement.
That sentiment was echoed by some of Israel’s top Democratic allies.
“Denying entry to members of the United States Congress is a sign of weakness, not strength,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), a staunch Israel ally, said in a statement. “It will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America. No democratic society should fear an open debate. Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”
Omar and Tlaib, the only two Muslim women in Congress, have been harshly critical of Israel and its policies and support the BDS movement, calling for boycots, divestment and sanctions of Israel over the country’s treatment of Palestinians.
That, and some of Omar’s inflammatory rhetoric about Israel, has created plenty of controversy. But President Trump went significantly further, personally attacking the lawmakers and calling for them to “go back” to their countries in racist taunts, even though Tlaib was born in the U.S. and Omar is a naturalized American citizen.
Israel had initially planned to allow the controversial lawmakers to visit. "Out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel," Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said last month.
But President Trump has publicly and privately pressured Israel to block the lawmakers in recent days, a precedent-shattering move by the president.
“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 Thursday morning, shortly before Israel announced its decision.
Trump celebrated Israel’s decision while tying the controversial pair of congresswomen to the Democratic Party:
Trump might be happy — but Israel’s top allies in the U.S. aren’t, including some of Omar and Tlaib’s harshest critics.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and a number of other pro-Israel Democratic lawmakers had personally lobbied Dermer and Netanyahu to allow the pair of lawmakers into the country in recent days. Hoyer decried their reversal.
“The decision of the Israeli government to deny entry to Israel by two Members of Congress is outrageous, regardless of their itinerary or their views,” Hoyer said in a statement, calling Netanyahu’s decision “unwarranted and self-destructive.”
His frustration was echoed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“As one who loves Israel, I am deeply saddened by the news that Israel has decided to prevent Members of Congress from entering the country," she said in a statement. "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. The President’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Weisenthal Center, a pro-Israel Jewish human rights organization, slammed Omar and Tlaib as “unapologetic anti-Semites and supporters of the anti-peace BDS movement” in a statement.
But even he said that Omar and Tlaib should be allowed entry: “The first instinct of Israeli officials to let them into the country was right one.”
Cover: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (R) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MN) attend a news conference where House and Senate Democrats introduced the Equality Act of 2019 which would ban discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, on March 13, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)