In an about-face from earlier statements by the Israeli government, U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will not be allowed to enter Israel or the West Bank. The announcement, confirmed by Israel’s deputy foreign minister today, came after President Trump tweeted that allowing the congresswomen to enter the country “would show great weakness.”
The decision, which was widely condemned in the Jewish community and by some Jewish members of Congress from New York, constituted a reversal from earlier statements by Israeli officials that Omar (D-Minn.) and Tlaib (D-Mich.) would be allowed to visit the country.
Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, announced earlier this year that she would skip the AIPAC delegation to Israel, a popular trip for freshmen members of Congress, and would instead lead her own delegation to the region. Her support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel raised questions about whether she would be permitted to enter the country under a law that prohibits BDS supporters from visiting Israel. The decision to bar her from the country comes as Netanyahu faces a second national election next month after he failed to assemble a ruling coalition in the Knesset in April.
Jewish leaders and organizations immediately condemned the announcement.
While condemning the congresswomen’s views on Israel, the American Jewish Committee expressed disappointment in the Israeli government decision in a statement. “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 U.S. of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative,” said AJC CEO David Harris.
In a rare rebuke of the Israeli government, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said in a tweet: “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. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
Israel Policy Forum condemned the decision in a statement: “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. Furthermore, while we take exception to many of the positions on Israel held by Omar and Tlaib, 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.”
Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster and CEO of the Democratic Majority For Israel, condemned the Israeli government’s decision. “While we disagree strongly with the anti-Israel, and in some instances anti-Semitic, views articulated by Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar, and while we were disturbed to learn that their planned itinerary was completely unbalanced, there is simply no excuse for any country, including Israel, to prevent travel by elected officials of the United States,” said Mellman. “Unfortunately, the Government of Israel was both wrong and unwise to reverse their earlier decision to allow these elected Members of Congress to visit the country.”
“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,” said Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America.
The Zionist Organization of America, representing right-wing supporters of Israel, supported the Israeli government’s decision. “Tlaib and Omar seek Israel’s destruction, and are leading promoters of anti-Jewish anti-Israel boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS). They even outrageously compare boycotting Israel to boycotting Nazis,” said ZOA president Morton Klein in a statement. “Israeli laws refusing entry to anti-Israel boycott leaders surely should apply to Tlaib and Omar.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition agree, calling Israel’s decision “the right decision.”
“The purpose of their trip was to use Israel as the backdrop to promote their radical agenda; they clearly had no intention of going to visit Israel with an open mind,” said Matt Brooks, RJC’s executive director, in a statement. “The fact that these two are members of Congress does not 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.”
Two prominent members of Congress, and longtime supporters of Israel, weighed in. “I am saddened by the Israeli government’s decision to bar two sitting Members of Congress from entering Israel, especially following Ambassador Dermer’s public announcement that both women would be allowed to enter just a short time ago,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, who represents Westchester County, in a statement. “This decision does nothing to further the U.S.-Israel relationship, and I urge the Prime Minister to reconsider.”
“It is utterly egregious for the Israeli government to deny entry to two sitting members of the United States Congress. The close relationship enjoyed by the United States and Israel should extend to all its government representatives, regardless of their views on specific issues or policies,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, who represents Manhattan and Brooklyn. “This decision 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.”