Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Friday excoriated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for barring the entry of two Democratic congresswomen to Israel, saying the decision “inflicted damage to Israel at the international level.”
In a series of tweets, Netanyahu’s main rival in the September elections said a lack of consistent strategy had led to the barring of House Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar on Thursday, and then a reversal of the ban on Tlaib on humanitarian grounds the following morning.
“Netanyahu’s zigzag on the entry of the US congresswomen into Israel stems from his ongoing lack of policy,” Gantz said.
Though Gantz said Tlaib and Omar were “radical congresswomen whose anti-Israeli positions are incomprehensible,” he stressed that barring them from entering Israel was “against our national interest and it was driven by election considerations.”
He said the subsequent decision allowing Tlaib to enter for a family visit was the right decision, “particularly due to the need to lower the flames of the conflagration Netanyahu sparked yesterday in Israeli-US relations.”
However, shortly after Israel said it would allow her in, Tlaib announced in Twitter that she had decided not to go, saying the terms were “humiliating” and “oppressive.”
The last-minute decision on Thursday to prevent the two congresswomen from entering Israel and the West Bank elicited swift and blunt criticism from top Democratic leaders, centrist and left-wing Israeli lawmakers and several American Jewish groups — all of whom warned the move signaled weakness and would cause damage to US-Israeli ties.
Last month, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer had said the pair would be allowed to enter Israel despite a controversial 2017 Israeli law prohibiting any foreigner from entering the country who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”
But on Thursday, shortly after US President Donald Trump tweeted that allowing them to enter would “show great weakness,” Jerusalem reversed that decision, saying it would ban the BDS-supporting lawmakers.
Israel has cited the pair’s support for boycotts of the Jewish state and said that their itinerary for the planned trip, which was to have begun on Sunday, included no meetings with Israeli officials and pointed to a visit solely dedicated to giving voice to the Palestinian narrative.
But most commentators believe the true reason was intense pressure from Trump — who has repeatedly disparaged the congresswomen — including in a reported phone call with Netanyahu earlier this week.