Democratic leaders criticize decision by Netanyahu to ban U.S. congresswomen

"We urge the government of Israel to reject President Trump’s unprecedented and ill-advised recommendation to deny Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) entry into Israel."

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) addresses a small rally on immigration rights at the temporary installation of a replica of the Statue of Liberty at Union Station in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2019 (photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) addresses a small rally on immigration rights at the temporary installation of a replica of the Statue of Liberty at Union Station in Washington, U.S. May 16, 2019
(photo credit: JONATHAN ERNST / REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – Political democratic leaders and pro-Israel organizations from AIPAC to J Street criticized on Thursday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to ban Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country.
AIPAC, the largest pro-Israel group in the US, released a rare statement with implied criticism on the decision and voicing support to allow the two in Israel.
“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,” the organization tweeted. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally, Israel, firsthand.”
AIPAC’s tweet was surprising, given that Omar attacked the organization with antisemitic tropes in the past, and because of the group’s policy not to publicly criticize Israel.
House Speaker House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement that she is “sad” and “deeply disappointed” by the decision to reverse Israel’s original position to allow the two to enter.
“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,” said Pelosi. “The president’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, referred to Trump’s tweet, who suggested that allowing the two in would be a show of weakness, and wrote: “Denying entry to members of the United States Congress is a sign of weakness, not strength. It will only hurt the US-Israel relationship and support for Israel in America.”
“No democratic society should fear an open debate,” added Schumer. “Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer sharply criticized the decision to ban the two, and called it “outrageous, regardless of their itinerary or their views.”
He voiced disappointment from Netanyahu and Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer’s actions, and revealed in a statement that he tried to convince the prime minister to change his mind, to no avail.
“This action is contrary to the statement and assurances to me by Israel’s ambassador to the United States that ‘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,’” Hoyer wrote. “That representation was not true.
“The action the Israeli government has taken is wrong,” he continued. “I urged Prime Minister Netanyahu, when I spoke to him yesterday, to allow Rep. Tlaib and Rep. Omar’s visit to go forward. Israel is a strong and resilient nation. It is a robust democracy with a wide divergence of views and opinions, as is the United States. This action reflects weakness, not strength.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, released a statement in which he detailed his conversation with Dermer on Wednesday. “It won’t surprise anybody that I have disagreements with Rep. Omar and Tlaib when it comes to Israel,” said Engel. “I probably wouldn’t have planned the same trip they did. But as I said to [Dermer] yesterday, it’s a mistake for the Israeli government to bar entry of members of Congress into Israel. If Israel’s government hopes to win the support of American lawmakers across the political spectrum, then this visit could have been an opportunity to share views and make a case for why American support for Israel is so important.
“Instead, refusing entry to members of Congress looks like Israel closing itself off to criticism and dialogue,” he continued. “This decision will only strengthen the anti-Israel movements and arguments many of us find so troubling, further politicize support for Israel in the United States and ultimately play right into the hands of Israel’s enemies. If my two colleagues had seen what I’ve seen over the years, I believe they would have come away with valuable new perspectives. Now they won’t have that opportunity, and it’s a real shame.”
Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren tweeted that “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. This would be a shameful, unprecedented move. I urge Israel’s government to allow [them to enter].”
Another presidential hopeful, Bernie Sanders, tweeted that “Banning Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel and Palestine is a sign of enormous disrespect to these elected leaders, to the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy. The Israeli government should reverse this decision and allow them in.”
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, released a statement and wrote that “Banning members of Congress from visiting Israel, where they can see facts on the ground with their own eyes, is counterproductive and plays into President Trump’s goal of politicizing support for Israel.”
American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris issued a statement in support of the two Congresswomen’s right to visit Israel. “As long-time friends and supporters of Israel, American Jewish Committee (AJC) has always believed that visiting Israel is essential to gaining a better understanding of this dynamic country and the very real security challenges it faces,” said Harris.
He added that while he understands the delegation was a mere “propaganda exercise” that aims to undermine the very legitimacy of the State of Israel. However, Harris emphasized that “AJC believes that, out of two less-than-ideal options, neither of which was risk-free, Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision.
“While we fully respect Israel’s sovereign right to control entry into the country, a right that every nation employs, and while we are under no illusions about the implacably hostile views of Reps. Omar and Tlaib on Israel-related issues, we nonetheless believe that the costs in the US of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida), who was the author of the anti-BDS bill that passed in the Senate, tweeted that “I disagree 100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel.” However, he added that “denying them entry... is a mistake. Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition executive director, Matt Brooks, backed the decision. “Israel’s decision to deny entry to Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, while not easy or taken lightly, is the right decision,” he said in a statement.
“This decision has nothing to do with American partisan politics. In fact, 40 Democratic members of Congress were just welcomed enthusiastically in Israel for a trip led by Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Rather, this decision is about Israel following Israeli law, and two freshman Democratic members of Congress that choose to support BDS and traffic in antisemitism.”
According to Brooks, “Their itinerary shows that they had no plans to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu, anyone in his cabinet, anyone in the Knesset or anyone from any opposition party. The purpose of their trip was to use Israel as a backdrop to promote their radical agenda; they clearly had no intention of going to visit Israel with an open mind. The fact that these two are members of Congress doesn’t excuse their choice to support a movement that seeks to destroy the only democracy in the Middle East. It would be unfair to expect Israel to treat them differently than anyone else applying to visit the country.”
American Jewish Congress president Jack Rose, voiced support for the decision as well: “Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are no friends of Israel,” he said. “Had they shown a genuine desire to commit to open and honest dialogue, they could have better understood the true character of the Israeli people and the reality in which they live on a daily basis. But sadly this is not the case, and the Israeli government’s decision is the right one.”