August 19, 2019
“I don’t know why they would,” President Donald Trump said last week, when asked whether he thought that Israel should provide entrance to two U.S. Democratic representatives for a fact-finding visit.
The freshman lawmakers—Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota—are Muslims who have been disparaged, even by many of their fellow Democrats, for their posture on Israel; including their support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a global campaign designed to press Israel on human rights issues surrounding the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nonetheless, it has been Israel’s position, as a close ally of the United States, to allow members of Congress to freely visit the nation—including the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The visit of the two lawmakers would have followed a visit by the largest-ever U.S. delegation—a group of 41 Congressional Democrats and 31 Congressional Republicans—who traveled to Israel to express solidarity with the Jewish state, following what they characterized as anti-semitic remarks by Tlaib and Omar.
However, U.S. President Donald Trump intervened to urge Israel to block the upcoming admission of the two Muslim observers.
According to a report by The Hill, President Trump “broke new ground [last] Thursday when he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deny two Muslim congresswomen entrance to the country for a fact-finding visit, accusing them of harboring hatred toward “Israel & all Jewish people.”
The move reverberated across Washington, as pro-Israel groups condemned the president for threatening U.S.-Israel relations; foreign policy experts chimed in with warnings of frayed diplomatic ties; and stunned Democrats issued waves of statements denouncing Trump for pressuring a foreign government to deny his American political opponents rights of free passage.
Indeed, in a surprise response on August 16, even BDS condemned the move. The statement from the opposition organization left no doubt that even the Palestinians object to the U.S. president’s unprecedented intervention.
“The Palestinian-led BDS movement condemns the far-right Israeli government’s McCarthyite decision to prevent Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar from visiting the Occupied Palestinian Territory over their support for Palestinian freedom. We call for cutting US military aid to Israel,” BDS said in its official release, adding, “Israel’s far-right government, with Trump’s collusion, has again put itself on par with apartheid South Africa in the past, and other rogue regimes in the present.”
The statement ended with kudos for the two Muslim lawmakers. “We salute Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, and we call for escalating pressure on Congress to implement the Leahy Law, which conditions U,S, military aid to other governments on their respect for human rights, by cutting U,S, military aid to Israel.”
“I can’t think of any other president, Democrat or Republican, doing something as outrageous as this,” Representative Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told The Hill on August 15 during a phone interview. “If this is just providing cover for Netanyahu, that’s wrong. If this is Donald Trump playing politics, that’s wrong.
“Once again, Donald Trump is denigrating the office of the presidency,” he added.
Some Republicans also broke ranks to criticize the president’s intervention. “Israel is a U.S. ally and a thriving bastion of democracy and hope for freedom-loving people of the world. It would benefit all of us for Reps. Tlaib and Omar to see that firsthand,” Representative Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said to Reuters’s Patricia Zengerle.
Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), a staunch ally of Israel who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee, called Israel’s decision a “mistake,” while Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) singled out the Trump administration for urging Israel to deny the women entry.
Research contact: @thehill