Two Democratic members of Congress have just been barred from visiting Israel next week in a move that many fear will deepen the injured relationship between Democrats and the Jewish state and strengthen the bond between Trump and Israeli leaders. On Thursday, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blocked Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from embarking on a planned trip to the country.
Deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely confirmed the ban in a statement to CNN.
“The plan of the two Congresswomen is only to damage Israel and to foment against Israel,” Netanyahu said.
The decision came after President Donald Trump said Israel would be showing “great weakness” if they allowed the women of color legislators, who have both been very critical of the country, to visit. “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people,” the president wrote on Twitter Thursday morning. “There is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”
The private trip was organized by a Palestinian-led nonprofit. The women were expected to visit Israel and the West Bank, where Tlaib has family, as well as Bethlehem, Hebron, Ramallah, and Jerusalem. In the latter Middle Eastern city, they were to join members of the Palestinian Authority at the Temple Mount (called Haram al-Sharif by Muslims), a major holy site for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
The decision to block the trip comes one month after Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said that the women would be allowed to visit Israel, noting at the time that barring them would be impertinent.
“Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” Dermer, who is close to Netanyahu, said.
For some on the left, the Israeli government’s decision to go back on their word is proof that the decision was made in spite of the women.
Even more, they see it as potentially damaging to an already strained relationship.
“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,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “The President’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”
In a separate statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called the decision a “sign of weakness, not strength,” adding that “it will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America … Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”
Netanyahu’s main grievance with the women is that they support the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. Both Omar and Tlaib voted for legislation that would have made it US policy to boycott Israel; the measure was thwarted 398-17 in the House.
Since about 2005, the BDS movement has attempted to force Israel to change its approach to the Palestinians through external pressure, like demanding companies to halt business with Israel, asking consumers to stop buying Israeli products and calling on scholars and cultural leaders to stop collaborating with colleagues in the country. For supporters, the mission is much like the boycotts that targeted apartheid in South Africa in the 1980s.
For opponents, however, the movement, and its followers are deemed anti-Semitic.
Democratic presidential candidates have chimed in on the matter as well, with some recognizing that difference in views does not equate to anti-Semitism and others directly placing their anger with Trump, who they believe helped stir up Isreali leaders with his damaging remarks against Reps. Tlaib and Omar.
“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,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tweeted. “This would be a shameful, unprecedented move. I urge Israel’s government to allow @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib entry.”
Speaking to Trump, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) called the president a bigot and told him, “opposing Netanyahu’s policies is not ‘hating the Jewish people.”
Former US representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) added: “President Trump, you show great weakness every single day—when you attack women of color when you degrade the office of the president, and when you ask our allies to stoop to your level.”
In July, Trump told Omar and Tlaib, among other members of their “squad” — which also includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) — to “go back” to their countries. Tlaib was born in the United States, and Omar was born in Somalia and is a naturalized US citizen.