Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Saturday said that Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, had acted without consulting Katz or Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he announced last month that US congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar would be allowed into Israel.
“It was not with the prime minister’s blessing, it was not a decision of the Israeli government… It was not with my blessing. He gave his opinion,” Katz told Channel 12’s “Meet the Press.”
Katz said that with the visit drawing closer, Netanyahu met with cabinet ministers on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss the matter and decided to bar the lawmakers. “There was no dilemma,” he said.
Katz denied reports that US President Donald Trump had pressured Israel to disallow the two congresswomen from visiting. He also said the decision to bar the two was made before Trump tweeted support of a ban on Thursday.
“The decision was an Israeli one,” Katz said. “I don’t think that a country that respects itself would allow in congress members that act in such a harsh way against the State of Israel.”
Channel 12 reporters noted that Dermer is close to Netanyahu and it was unlikely that he had acted on such a sensitive issue without any input from the prime minister.
Dermer had announced on July 19 that Israel would allow the congresswomen to visit.
“Out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” he told The Times of Israel in a statement.
But on Thursday Israel said it had decided to bar Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress.
Netanyahu, justifying the unprecedented decision to ban serving US legislators from Israel, said it was plain that Omar and Tlaib intended to use the visit to harm Israel. “Several days ago, we received [Omar and Tlaib’s] trip itinerary,” Netanyahu said in a statement, “which clarified that they planned a visit whose sole purpose was to support boycotts and deny Israel’s legitimacy. For example, they called their destination ‘Palestine’ and not ‘Israel,’ and unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress before them, they did not seek any meeting with any Israeli official, whether government or opposition.”
Hebrew media reports claimed Netanyahu had been heavily pressured by Trump to block the two congresswomen. The announcement that Israel would not allow the pair in came shortly after Trump tweeted that the Jewish state would be showing weakness if it gave them permission to come.
Tlaib then submitted a letter requesting to be allowed in despite the ban, citing her elderly grandmother, and promised not to promote boycotting Israel during her visit. The request was approved by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri but Tlaib later said she’d decided not go under “humiliating terms.”
The Israeli ban on the two congresswoman was criticized by centrist, left-wing and Arab Israeli lawmakers, and by many prominent US Democratic leaders.
A Friday report in the McClatchy news service said that top Democratic lawmakers in the US House of Representatives had discussed censuring Dermer and the US envoy to Israel David Friedman over the decision to bar Tlaib and Omar. Around a dozen Democrats had begun talks on how to express a “deep lack of confidence and trust” in the two, the report said.
According to a recent report on the Walla news site, Netanyahu said recently that he sees Dermer as a possible successor to lead the country after he bows out of political life, along with the head of the Mossad intelligence agency, Yossi Cohen.
Katz said on Saturday that he believes that he himself will be prime minister after Netanyahu, saying that he is “happy to learn from and work together with him.”
According to Walla, Dermer, 48, is not believed to have any interest in pursuing a political career when his diplomatic posting ends. Spymaster Cohen, however, may well be eyeing the top political office when his tenure as Mossad chief expires, the report said, though he currently denies it.
A close confidant of Netanyahu, Dermer was a vociferous opponent of the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 between Tehran and six world powers including the US. He famously orchestrated Netanyahu’s backdoor invitation to address Congress and lambaste the accord, angering the Obama administration, and has overseen the warming of Trump-Netanyahu ties.
Dermer began serving as Israel’s envoy in Washington in 2013, shortly after former president Barack Obama began his second term. He is currently set to finish his term after the September elections, though Netanyahu has said he plans to extend his term by another year.