Monday 16 September 2019

Netanyahu bars Democrats from visiting Israel after Trump 'pressure'

No entry: Ilhan Omar called Israel’s decision to block her trip an ‘affront’. Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP
No entry: Ilhan Omar called Israel’s decision to block her trip an ‘affront’. Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

Maayan Lubell

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last night barred US Democratic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from making a planned trip to Israel, shortly after US President Donald Trump called on his ally not to let them in.

Ms Tlaib and Ms Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, are members of their party's progressive wing and sharp critics both of Mr Trump and of Israel's policy toward the Palestinians.

The moves, which were immediately condemned by many Democratic leaders in the US as well as Palestinians, could help whip up support among Mr Trump and Mr Netanyahu's conservative voter bases as they head into election campaigns. Israel is holding a national election on September 17 and Trump faces re-election in November 2020.

Ms Tlaib and Ms Omar have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement over Israel's policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Under Israeli law, BDS backers can be denied entry to Israel.

Ms Omar called yesterday's decision an "affront" and "an insult to democratic values".

Israel had initially chosen to allow the visit. A source who took part in consultations that Mr Netanyahu held with cabinet members and advisers on Wednesday told Reuters that Israel backtracked because of pressure from Mr Trump.

"In a discussion held two weeks ago all the officials were in favour of letting them in but, after Trump's pressure, they reversed the decision," the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

In a tweet yesterday, Mr Trump wrote: "It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep Omar and Rep Tlaib to visit ... They are a disgrace!"

Mr Trump's request appeared to contravene a US government policy that says the US seeks "equal treatment and freedom to travel" for all US citizens regardless of ethnicity. It says those denied entry should be given a written explanation by Israel.

Mr Trump has in recent months accused Ms Tlaib, Ms Omar and two other first-term Democratic congresswomen of colour - dubbed 'the Squad' - of hostility to Israel in a barrage condemned by critics as racist.

Ms Omar is a particularly favourite target. At a recent rally in North Carolina, supporters chanted "Send her Back" after Mr Trump falsely accused her of supporting al-Qa'ida.

The 37-year-old lawmaker, who represents a Minnesota congressional district, migrated to the US from Somalia as a child.

US-born Ms Tlaib (43) has roots in the West Bank.

Ms Omar has been criticised by both Democrats and Republicans for statements critical of Israel, including a 2012 tweet referring to the country's "evil doings" and a tweet this year saying support for Israel is all about money. She has apologised for such statements.

Israel's ambassador in the US, Ron Dermer, had said last month that Ms Tlaib and Ms Omar would be let in, out of respect for the US Congress and the US-Israeli relationship.

No date had been formally announced for the congresswomen's trip, but sources familiar with the planning said it could have begun over the weekend. They had planned to tour East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, which Palestinians want for a state.

Irish Independent

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