Israel bars entry to Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar

Trump said Netanyahu would ‘show weakness’ by allowing House members to visit

Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib had planned to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories along with Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib had planned to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories along with Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 15, 2019 at 10:43am

A planned trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories by Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota has been halted by Israeli officials.

“The state of Israel respects the U.S. Congress, as part of the close alliance, but it is inconceivable that anyone who wishes to harm the state of Israel will be allowed, even during the visit,” a media statement from the government read.

The word “harm” appeared to refer to the congresswomen’s backing for  the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, which supporters say is a nonviolent effort to pressure Israel over its actions against the Palestinians. The Israeli government claims the movement aims to delegitimize the country. 

Israeli authorities had pointed to a 2017 law that denies visas to BDS supporters. The law has been leveraged to deny entry to students, activists and artists.

Omar lambasted the move as an “insult to democratic values” and part of a pattern of anti-Muslim discrimination by the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Trump administration. President Donald Trump appealed to Israeli officials to bar the congresswomen in a tweet Thursday, saying allowing them to visit would “show weakness.”

“Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected members of Congress,” the Minnesota Democrat said in a statement. 

“As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it is my job to conduct oversight of foreign aid from the United States of America and to legislate on human rights practices around the world,” she continued. “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.”

Tlaib and Omar, both freshman lawmakers, have both been critical of Israel for its treatment of Palestinians and of the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill.

Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, had planned the tour for months. The Michigan Democrat told The Intercept last year that she hoped to lead a congressional delegation on a trip that would humanize Palestinians.

She said the trip was meant to provide a different lens than that of the biennial tour sponsored by the education arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, which attracted many first-term Democrats last week.

Tlaib said she hoped to visit her grandmother in the West Bank village of  Beit Ur, which is reportedly difficult to reach because the main thoroughfare is accessible only to Israeli citizens. She tweeted a photo of her grandmother after news of the Israeli government’s decision broke.

“She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her,” she wrote. “The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. congresswoman, is a sign of weakness [because] the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”

Netanyahu said in a statement posted to Twitter that his government would consider a request from Tlaib to visit her relatives, on humanitarian grounds, “on the condition that she pledges not to act to promote boycotts against Israel during her visit.”

A senior White House official on Thursday called reports that the Trump administration has pressed Israel to deny entry to the lawmakers “not accurate.”

“The Israeli government can do what it wants,” the official said.

But minutes later, Trump contradicted his own aide when he tweeted what amounted to a diplomatic communiqué to the Netanyahu government.

“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 said, then pivoting to 2020 domestic politics: “Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

The trip was slated to begin Sunday and run through Aug. 22. 

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Democrats swiftly condemned the decision by the Israeli government. 

In contrast to Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the move was “a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.”

Rep. Andy Levin, a fellow first term Michigan Democrat who voted for a resolution to condemn BDS in July, called the move “misguided” and politically motivated. 

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who led last week’s trip to Israel sponsored by the AIPAC education arm, said in a statement that he personally lobbied Netanyahu not to bar Tlaib and Omar because of their political views. 

“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,” the Maryland Democrat said. “I call on the prime minster to reconsider this decision.”