Democrats blast Israel's 'dangerous' decision to bar Omar, Tlaib from entering the country

Many lawmakers, who called on the Israeli government to reverse the move, accused President Donald Trump of instigating the decision.

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By Rebecca Shabad and Alex Moe

WASHINGTON — Democrats slammed Israel Thursday over its decision to block pro-Palestinian Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country on a trip they had planned to take this weekend to Israel and the West Bank.

Many lawmakers warned of the move's potentially negative impact on the U.S.-Israel relationship; called on Israeli officials to reverse Thursday's announcement and return to an earlier position of allowing the pair to enter the country; and accused President Donald Trump of instigating the move.

On Friday, Israel granted permission for Tlaib to visit her grandmother in the West Bank.

Ahead of the Israeli government’s announcement on Thursday, Trump tweeted that it would “show great weakness” if the country allowed the two to enter, later tweeting that "Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!" Omar and Tlaib are the first two Muslim woman elected to Congress.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the decision "a sad reversal" and "deeply disappointing."

"I pray that the Government of Israel will reverse that denial," she said in a statement, calling the move "a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who is Jewish, also said in a statement that denying the two lawmakers entry was "a sign of weakness, not strength" that "will only hurt the U.S.-Israel relationship and support for Israel in America."

"Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse," he said.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination and has also been a critic of the Israeli government, tweeted: "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."

Omar, of Minnesota, responded in a lengthy Twitter post Thursday afternoon, saying that "Trump's Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress," and calling the decision "both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation."

Tlaib, of Michigan, echoed Democratic leadership in calling the move on Twitter a "sign of weakness" and saying Israel had made the decision because "the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening."

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The third highest-ranking Democrat in the House, Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., tweeted that the decision is “antithetical” to the democratic values shared by the U.S. and Israel.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., an ally of Omar and Tlaib, tweeted that Netanyahu should reconsider the move, which she said sends a “dangerous message.”

Several Democrats, including Reps. Nita Lowey and Jerry Nadler, both New York Democrats and Jewish, who have questioned Omar and Tlaib for their critical statements about Israel, defended them and criticized Israel over Thursday's move.

“I don’t like the way these members often talk about Israel, but a decision to ban congressional critics from Israel would be a big mistake," tweeted Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., adding that the move to bar the two would "do long term harm to the U.S.-Israel relationship.”

“When you attack one of us, you attack all of us," said Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., a close ally of Omar and Tlaib, who Pressley said have been subject of “some of the most vile and vicious attacks simply for being who they are.”

Pressley said Netanyahu was "stoking division and punishing dissent just like the occupant of the White House."

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. — the fourth member of the "the quad," along with Pressley, Omar and Tlaib — tweeted that lawmakers "are frequently asked to visit Israel to 'see things for ourselves.' But Netanyahu choosing to ban the only 2 Muslim women in Congress from entering tells the US that only *some* Americans are welcome to Israel, not all," adding that "Trump is exporting his bigotry & making matters worse."

Many members suggested that the move was provoked by Trump’s policies and statements, including comments specifically about the two congresswomen. “This is a craven, partisan, racist weaponization of the US-Israel relationship that will do lasting damage,” Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., tweeted, suggesting that Trump was trying to play “electoral map games” with the states the two women represent.

“Banning Muslims from travel is one of Trump's most consistent policy positions,” tweeted Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., referring to Trump’s proposal during his 2016 presidential bid to ban all Muslims from entering the United States.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who co-led an official congressional delegation trip to Israel last week with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., had helped secure a statement from the Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, last month that the government there would not deny entry to any member of Congress "out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America," an aide to Hoyer told NBC News on Thursday — a position reversed on Thursday.

Hoyer had been working since Wednesday to convince the Israeli government to allow the pair entry, speaking directly to Dermer and Netanyahu, the aide said.

Other House Democrats who lobbied Dermer not to bar Omar and Tlaib from visiting the country included Reps. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., and Lowey, NBC News confirmed with sources familiar with the conversations.

The most influential pro-Israel group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said on Twitter that all members of Congress should be able to visit the country.

In a statement defending the decision shortly after Trump's tweet, Netanyahu called Omar and Tlaib "leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the US Congress" and accused them of "planning a campaign whose sole purpose was to strengthen the boycott and negate Israel's legitimacy.”

He added that they had not sought "any meeting with an official Israeli official in both the government and the opposition."

Omar and Tlaib were among 17 House members to vote against a bill last month that opposed efforts to delegitimize Israel through the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, known as BDS, which passed overwhelmingly with 398 members in support.

Few GOP lawmakers weighed in early Thursday on the Israeli move, though Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida tweeted that it was a "mistake."

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, echoed that sentiment.

The Republican Jewish Coalition, meanwhile, called it “the right decision.”

Several Republican members of Congress visited Israel last week on the official congressional delegation visit led by Hoyer and McCarthy.

Speaking to Fox News on Wednesday, McCarthy said that Omar and Tlaib should have joined the Israel tour last week with other members of Congress.

"The one thing that should’ve happened, they should’ve come with their colleagues," McCarthy said. "They should’ve come together where they can have a meeting with Israel, with the Palestinian Authority, with those who were running against [Netanyahu] at the same time."