Israel bans US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting its shores; move draws criticism from AIPAC, Democrats

  • House Democrat Ilhan Omar called Israel's decision Thursday to ban her from visiting the country 'chilling'

  • The Somali refugee, elected to Congress from Minnesota last year, was denied entry to Israel along with fellow first-term Democrat Rashida Tlaib

  • Israeli officials said the pair were barred because they support a boycott of the country over its treatment of the Palestinians

Washington: House Democrat Ilhan Omar called Israel's decision Thursday to ban her from visiting the country "chilling," saying it was an "insult to democratic values" to deny entry to sitting members of the US Congress.

 Israel bans US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting its shores; move draws criticism from AIPAC, Democrats

File image of Democrat Representative Ilhan Omar. AP

"It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister (Benjamin) Netanyahu, under pressure from President (Donald) Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the US government," Omar, who is Muslim, said in a sharply worded statement.

"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."

The Somali refugee, elected to Congress from Minnesota last year, was denied entry to Israel along with fellow first-term Democrat Rashida Tlaib.

Israeli officials said the pair, the first Muslim women to serve in Congress, were barred because they support a boycott of the country over its treatment of the Palestinians.

Omar highlighted her congressionally mandated role of overseeing how US foreign aid is spent abroad, including the roughly three billion dollars that Washington provides Israel annually.

"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," Omar said.

In addition to blasting Israel for essentially implementing "Trump's Muslim ban" by denying the two congresswomen entry, Omar also slammed the prime minister.

Netanyahu "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," she said.

Both Omar, 37, and Tlaib, 43, have been critical of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and treatment of Palestinians.

They have also faced accusations of anti-Semitism, which they firmly deny.

Fellow Democrats vehemently criticized Israel's ban. Many said that while they break with the two lawmakers on their anti-Israel positions, they fully oppose efforts to block sitting members of Congress from visiting an international ally.

Israel's decision to bar two Muslim members of the US Congress drew strikingly sharp criticism from several allies to the Jewish state, including top Democratic lawmakers, presidential hopefuls and influential pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), widely supported by Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington, led a collection of pro-Israel groups in denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's block of the anti-Trump lawmakers' visit, a move encouraged by President Donald Trump himself.

While the group's members "disagree" with support by House Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for a boycott on Israel, AIPAC said "we also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."

More than 70 House and Senate Democrats publicly denounced Israel's rejection, while Republican lawmakers were largely silent following the announcement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a staunch Israel ally on Capitol Hill, called the decision "a sign of weakness (that) will only hurt the US-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself has clashed with Omar and Tlaib, who have been accused of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements.

But Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, called the travel ban "beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel."

Israel scrapped the visit shortly after Trump weighed in via Twitter to say it would be showing "great weakness" if the Jewish state allowed the lawmakers in, leading to suspicion that Netanyahu acted only after receiving ally Trump's imprimatur.

That notion was reinforced by Israel's ex-ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon, who tweeted that his government had "rightfully decided to accept that recommendation" from Trump.

Omar, a Somali refugee, and Tlaib, born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrants, have faced censure from colleagues in Congress.

The House of Representatives voted to condemn anti-Semitism in March, after a series of Omar remarks that were criticized as offensive to Israel and Jews.

But colleagues rushed to their defense on Thursday, angrily opposing the Israeli ban that Omar herself described as "chilling." Several lawmakers expressed alarm at Trump's deviation from traditional diplomatic protocol, saying his interference will only drive a wedge between the longstanding allies and undermine the bipartisan basis for congressional support.

"The Trump Administration made a mistake in urging Israel to prevent them from entering the country," said Senator Susan Collins, one of the only Republican lawmakers to openly break with Trump over the incident.

Several Democratic presidential candidates piled on, including frontrunner Joe Biden, attacking Netanyahu's decision and Trump's public meddling in a sovereign nation's affairs.
Trump himself insisted it was Israel's call.

"What they've said is disgraceful, so I can't imagine why Israel would let them in," Trump told reporters of the lawmakers. "But if they want to let them in, they can."

While most Republicans laid low, some support for Netanyahu's move, and Trump's intervention, trickled out.

Congressman Mo Brooks tweeted that Omar and Tlaib "hate, want to hurt, maybe even destroy" the Jewish state.

"Israel bars enemies from entering Israel," the Alabama Republican added. "How can anyone disagree with that?"

Updated Date: Aug 16, 2019 08:37:05 IST