President Donald Trump’s top Mideast advisers, Jared Kushner, and Jason Greenblatt met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday to discuss the Trump administration’s long-awaited plan for Mideast peace. (May 30)
WASHINGTON – Israeli officials said Thursday they would bar two American members of Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., from visiting the country — shortly after President Donald Trump encouraged Israel to take that extraordinary step.
Trump has bitterly feuded with the two women over Israel and other issues, and on Thursday, he ramped up that domestic political spat by saying Israel would be weak if it allowed Omar and Tlaib to visit and accusing them of being anti-Semitic.
“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” Trump tweeted on Thursday morning. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”
Omar and Tlaib had planned to travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank, among other stops, this weekend.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is engaged in a bruising re-election fight, announced the decision less than two hours after Trump’s provocative tweet.
“Congressmen Talib and Omar are leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the US Congress,” Netanyahu wrote in a tweet of his own Thursday. “Only a few days ago, we received their visitation plan, and it became clear that they were planning a campaign whose sole purpose was to strengthen the boycott and negate Israel’s legitimacy.”
Omar on President Trump: This is ‘a fight for the soul of our nation’
Spokesmen for Omar and Tlaib did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Israel’s decision was a reversal from its previous position on the visit, and it sparked a backlash from Democrats in Congress who said it would hurt U.S.-Israel relations.
“I strongly condemn this decision by the Israeli government, which undermines the ability for our two allied countries to have the frank, open and, at times, difficult discussions that we must have in order to ensure Israel remains a secure and democratic nation,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Jewish Democrat from New York and staunch supporter of Israel, tweeted on Thursday.
Just last month, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S, Ron Dermer, said the two congresswomen would be allowed to visit Israel “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
The two lawmakers — the first elected Muslim women to serve in Congress — have been sharply critical of Trump on a broad range of issues. Omar has sparked particular controversy because of her outspoken opposition to the Trump administration’s foreign policy and her remarks about the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S., which many said played into anti-Semitic tropes.
Tlaib was born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrant parents. Omar was born in Somalia, fleeing that country’s civil war with her family when she was 8 years old.
The two Democrats have also expressed support for a boycott movement targeting Israel over its treatment of Palestinians. They have both said their views are based on policy disagreements, not any anti-Jewish sentiment.
Netanyahu defended the decision on Thursday, saying it was not about silencing critics of Israel.
“There is no country in the world that respects the US and the US Congress more than the State of Israel,” the prime minister tweeted. “As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception: Israel’s law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel.”
In March 2017, the Knesset, Israeli’s legislature, passed a law requiring the interior minister to ban foreign nationals from entering Israel if they publicly expressed support for boycotting Israel.
Netanyahu said Talib might be allowed to visit her family in the West Bank, “subject to a commitment that she would not act to promote the boycotts against Israel.” That decision would be made by Israel’s interior minister, he said.
Critics said Israel’s move was counterproductive and could damage the country’s international image. The Israel Policy Forum, an advocacy group that works to build support in the U.S. for a two-state solution, said it was an “insult” to Congress and would create a “dangerous precedent.”
“Any sitting member of Congress should be welcome to visit Israel as official representatives of Israel’s closest ally and most critical source of international support,” the forum said in a statement Thursday.
The group said it disagrees with Omar and Tlaib on many issues but “the best way to demonstrate to them that they should reconsider their stances is for them to see Israel and the challenges it faces firsthand. Denying them entry can only serve to harden their current views, along with delivering an insult to the U.S. Congress, exacerbating partisan divides on Israel, and creating a dangerous precedent.”
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