Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib barred from entering Israel - at Donald Trump's request

Elizabeth Warren calls the decision to bar US politicians "shameful" and "unprecedented"

Clark Mindock
New York
Thursday 15 August 2019 14:10 BST
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib 'barred from entering Israel', report says

Democratic congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been barred from entering Israel ahead of an expected visit, Israeli deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely has announced.

The decision had been previously announced on Israeli television station Channel 12, which cited Israeli Interior minister Arye Deri as having made the decision.

It comes days after reports indicated that Donald Trump told advisers he believed Israel should enforce its 2017 law that allows individuals to be denied entry into the country if they have supported boycotting Israel. And, on Thursday, Mr Trump weighed in again to urge Israel to keep the women away.

"It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep Omar and Rep Tlaib to visit," Mr Trump wrote on Twitter, suggesting that they "hate Israel & all Jewish people".

The White House had denied Mr Trump expressed such an opinion previously, with press secretary Stephanie Grisham telling Axios earlier in the week: "The Israeli government can do what they want. It's fake news."

The decision by Mr Deri, whose post grants him the power to approve visas, would likely have been made after consultation with prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who later backed it publicly, and comes roughly a week after the United States House of Representatives voted in opposition to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to force the end of international support of Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands.

The resolution disapproved of BDS tactics, "including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel." The measure received overwhelming support in the House, with just 17 voting against it, including Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent.

Ms Tlaib reacted to the decision by posting an image of her grandmother on Twitter and calling the ban "a sign of weakness" because "the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening".

The decision was also criticised by foreign dignitaries, including by Dan Shapiro, a former US ambassador to Israel who wrote on Twitter that the decision would hurt Israel's relationship with the US while boosting BDS.

"Original Israeli decision to allow Tlaib/Omar visit was wise. Reversal makes little sense. I disagree with their stands on Israel, have criticised them," Mr Shapiro, who served during the Obama administration, wrote.

"But zero harm in letting them come learn, see (even if they had an agenda). Reversal harms Israel's standing in US, boosts BDS."

The congresswomen had been expected to start a trip to the Middle East on Saturday and was expected to include a visit to the Al Aqsa mosque compound, which has long been a focus of contention between Muslims and Jews.

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination to take Mr Trump on in 2020, also weighed in to denounce the move.

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"Israel doesn't advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering US ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views," Ms Warren tweeted before the formal decision was announced. "This would be a shameful, unprecedented move."

A number of Republican politicians opposed the decision, notably Florida senator Marco Rubio, who has been a vocal critic of the two congresswomen. He tweeted: "I disagree 100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel & am the author of the #AntiBDS bill we passed in the Senate. But denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake. Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state."

There was unexpected criticism too from AIPAC, the lobbying group that promotes US-Israeli relations, which said: "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."

Dylan J. Williams, senior vice president at J Street, a Jewish-American advocacy group, said: "This is unprecedented in the history of US-Israel relations.

"The fact that dozens of US lawmakers and nearly every Jewish-American group in the country are publicly opposing Trump and Netanyahu on this shows just how severe a crisis the two men have triggered. It's a move that leaves no doubt about their shared anti-democratic impulses and reckless disregard for preserving the bilateral relationship beyond their immediate personal political horizons.​"

Prime Minister Netanyahu said the decision was made because the two congresswomen are "leading activists" in the BDS movement. He said that their itinerary referred to the trip as being a visit to Palestine rather than Israel and that they had not requested any official meetings with Israeli representatives.

The US ambassador to Israel David Friedman echoed Mr Netanyahu's statement, suggesting that trip by the two congresswomen was "an effort to fuel [the] BDS engine."

Requests for comment sent to the offices of Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib were not immediately returned. The White House has not commented publicly on the reported decision.

The decision represents the latest round in an ongoing spat between the president and members of the self-styled Squad of four Democratic congresswomen: Ms Omar, Ms Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley.

Mr Trump's racist comments about them, telling them they should go back to their own countries, provoked outrage, not least because three of them were born in America and all are US citizens. At a rally in North Carolina last month, Trump supporters targeted Somali-born Ms Omar with chants of "send her back". The next day supporters greeted her in Minnesota with the chant "welcome home".

Ms Omar was forced to apologise in February for tweets that were condemned as antisemitic, including one that suggested US support for Israel was "all about the Benjamins, baby".

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