Israel bars US con­gress­women

Omar, Tlaib re­fused en­try after Trump’s ‘weak­ness’ tweet

The Morning Call - - NATION & WORLD - By Ilan Ben Zion

JERUSALEM — Israel said Thurs­day that it will bar two Demo­cratic con­gress­women from en­ter­ing the coun­try ahead of a planned visit over their sup­port for a Pales­tini­an­led boy­cott move­ment, a de­ci­sion an­nounced shortly after Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump tweeted that it would “show great weak­ness” to al­low them in.

The move to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michi­gan and Il­han Omar of Min­nesota from vis­it­ing ap­peared to be un­prece­dented. It marked a deep foray by Israel into Amer­ica’s bit­terly po­lar­ized pol­i­tics and a sharp es­ca­la­tion of Israel’s cam­paign against the in­ter­na­tional boy­cott move­ment.

The two newly-elected Muslim mem­bers of Congress are out­spo­ken crit­ics of Israel’s treat­ment of the Pales­tini­ans and have re­peat­edly sparred with Trump over a range of is­sues. Tlaib’s fam­ily im­mi­grated to the United States from the West Bank, where she still has close rel­a­tives.

They had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour or­ga­nized by a Pales­tinian or­ga­ni­za­tion aimed at high­light­ing the plight of the Pales­tini­ans. It was not im­me­di­ately clear if they had planned to meet with Is­raeli of­fi­cials, and spokes­peo­ple for the two con­gress­women did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said Israel is “open to crit­ics and crit­i­cism,” ex­cept for those who ad­vo­cate boy­cotts against it.

“Con­gress­women Tlaib and Omar are lead­ing ac­tivists in pro­mot­ing the leg­is­la­tion of boy­cotts against Israel in the Amer­i­can Congress,” Ne­tanyahu charged. He said their itin­er­ary “re­vealed that they planned a visit whose sole ob­jec­tive is to strengthen the boy­cott against us and deny Israel’s le­git­i­macy.”

Omar de­nounced the de­ci­sion as “an af­front” and “an in­sult to demo­cratic val­ues.”

“This is not a sur­prise given the pub­lic po­si­tions of Prime Min­is­ter Ne­tanyahu, who 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,” Omar said in a state­ment.

Shortly be­fore the de­ci­sion was an­nounced, Trump had tweeted that “it would show great weak­ness” if Israel al­lowed them to visit. “They hate Israel & all Jewish peo­ple, & there is noth­ing that can be said or done to change their minds.”

He went on to call the con­gress­women “a dis­grace.”

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Fried­man, en­dorsed the de­ci­sion after it was made, say­ing Israel “has ev­ery right to pro­tect its borders” against pro­mot­ers of boy­cotts “in the same man­ner as it would bar en­trants with more con­ven­tional weapons.” Trump’s de­ci­sion to urge a for­eign coun­try to deny en­try to elected U.S. of­fi­cials was a strik­ing de­par­ture from the longheld prac­tice of politi­cians from both par­ties of leav­ing their dis­putes at the wa­ter’s edge.

Demo­cratic law­mak­ers in Congress de­nounced Israel’s de­ci­sion. Top rank­ing Se­nate Demo­crat Chuck Schumer of New York said it was a sign of weak­ness in­stead of strength and “will only hurt the U.S.Is­raeli re­la­tion­ship and sup­port for Israel in Amer­ica.”

A fresh­man col­league of the two law­mak­ers, Ayanna Press­ley of Mas­sachusetts, said Israel’s move is “big­oted, short­sighted and cruel.”

Israel has sought to com­bat the BDS move­ment, which ad­vo­cates boy­cotts, di­vest­ment and sanc­tions against Is­raeli busi­nesses, uni­ver­si­ties and cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions. Israel passed a law per­mit­ting a ban on en­try to any ac­tivist who “knowingly is­sues a call for boy­cotting Israel.”

Last month, Is­raeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Der­mer had said Israel would not deny en­try to any mem­ber of Congress.

The in­te­rior min­istry said in state­ment Thurs­day that “the state of Israel re­spects the Amer­i­can Congress, in the frame­work of the close al­liance be­tween the two coun­tries, but it’s un­ac­cept­able to al­low the en­trance to the coun­try of those who wish to harm the state of Israel, es­pe­cially dur­ing their visit.”

Israel said it would con­sider any re­quest from Tlaib to visit rel­a­tives on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds.

Sup­port­ers of the boy­cott move­ment say it is a non­vi­o­lent way to protest Is­raeli poli­cies and call for Pales­tinian rights. Crit­ics say the boy­cott move­ment aims to dele­git­imize Israel and ul­ti­mately erase it from the map, re­plac­ing it with a bi­na­tional state.

Israel of­ten hosts del­e­ga­tions of U.S. rep­re­sen­ta­tives and se­na­tors, who usu­ally meet with se­nior Is­raeli of­fi­cials as well as Pales­tinian of­fi­cials in the oc­cu­pied West Bank. Israel con­trols en­try and exit points to the West Bank, which it seized along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.

MIF­TAH, the Pales­tinian or­ga­ni­za­tion that was set to host Tlaib and Omar in the West Bank, is­sued a state­ment say­ing that Israel’s de­ci­sion was “an af­front to the Amer­i­can peo­ple and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives” and “an as­sault on the Pales­tinian peo­ple’s right to reach out to de­ci­sion-makers and other ac­tors from around the world.”

The move could fur­ther sharpen di­vi­sions among Democrats over Israel ahead of the 2020 elec­tions.

Repub­li­cans have am­pli­fied the views of left-wing Democrats like Tlaib and Omar to present the party as di­vided and at odds with Israel. Demo­cratic lead­ers have pushed back, re­it­er­at­ing the party’s sup­port for Israel, in part to pro­tect rep­re­sen­ta­tives from more con­ser­va­tive dis­tricts.

In July, the Demo­cratic-led House voted over­whelm­ingly in fa­vor of a res­o­lu­tion against the BDS move­ment.


Reps. Il­han Omar, D-Minn, right, and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., have crit­i­cized Is­raeli poli­cies to­ward Pales­tini­ans.

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