Banned congresswomen call decision ‘insult to democracy’ and a sign of weakness

Ilhan Omar likens ‘chilling’ Israeli move to Trump’s Muslim ban; Rashida Tlaib says Israel knows ‘the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening’

In this photo taken on July 18, 2019, US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks on stage during a town hall meeting at  Sabathani Community in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Kerem Yucel / AFP)
In this photo taken on July 18, 2019, US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks on stage during a town hall meeting at Sabathani Community in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Kerem Yucel / AFP)

House Democrat Ilhan Omar on Thursday likened Israel’s decision to ban her and fellow lawmaker Rashida Tlaib from visiting the country to US President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban.

In a statement Thursday, Omar called Israel’s decision “chilling,” saying denying entry to sitting members of the US Congress was an “insult to democratic values.”

“Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” she said, referring to the president’s executive orders to restrict entry to citizens of certain predominantly Muslim countries.

“The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation,” she added.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib, left, and Ilhan Omar at a rally with Democrats in the Capitol, March 13, 2019. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images, via JTA)

Omar also criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who “consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump.”

The Somali refugee, elected to Congress from Minnesota last year, was denied entry to Israel along with fellow first-term Democrat Tlaib.

Tlaib on Thursday also panned the Israeli government for its decision, saying that preventing her from visiting her grandmother in the West Bank was a “sign of weakness” because “the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”

Israel’s Interior Ministry said in a statement it would consider letting Tlaib enter Israel in order to visit her relatives in the West Bank, if requested to do so: “Minister [Aryeh] Deri stressed that if a request is filed on behalf of Mrs. Tlaib to meet her family members for humanitarian reasons, subject to necessary commitments, he would consider that.”

Israeli officials said the pair — the first Muslim women to serve in Congress — were barred because they support a boycott of the country over its treatment of the Palestinians.

They have also faced accusations of anti-Semitism, which they firmly deny.

The two newly-elected Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and have repeatedly sparred with Trump over a range of issues. Tlaib’s family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank, where she still has close relatives.

Israel has sought to combat the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions. The country passed a law permitting a ban on entry to any activist who “knowingly issues a call for boycotting Israel.”

Last month, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, had said Israel would not deny entry to any member of Congress.

Thursday’s decision to ban Tlaib and Omar came hours after Trump wrote on Twitter that Israel “would show great weakness” if it let in the two freshman lawmakers.

President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 7, 2019. (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Tlaib and Omar have also been the target of repeated attacks by Trump in recent months, including a series of racist tweets on July 14 in which he said they should “go back” to the “broken” countries they came from. Both are US citizens and Tlaib was born in the United States. The two are members of the so-called “Squad” of newly-elected left-wing Democrats, along with Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley came to Omar and Tlaib’s defense.

Members of Congress “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,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet.

Pressley slammed the ban as “bigoted, short sighted and cruel” in a tweet.

From left, Democratic representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts respond to remarks by US President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their ‘broken’ countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Dan Shapiro, who was the US ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama, said that he knew of “no such precedent” for Israel barring an elected American official from entering the country, calling the decision “short-sighted.”

“There’s no reason to prevent members of Congress, including critical ones, from coming, seeing and learning, offering them every possible briefing,” Shapiro said. “By refusing them entry, it will only fuel the very things that Israel claims to be unhappy about” when it comes to calls for boycotts.

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