Pelosi: Barring lawmakers beneath Israel’s dignity; Rubio: Decision is a mistake

Top Democratic leaders, and at least one leading Republican, speak out against Israeli move to block arrival of boycott-backing congresswomen

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, left, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak to the media after meeting with US President Donald Trump on January 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, left, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer speak to the media after meeting with US President Donald Trump on January 2, 2019. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The Netanyahu government’s decision to bar two American congresswomen from entering Israel over their support for the anti-Israel boycott movement drew sharp condemnation on Thursday from leading Democrats.

In July, Israel announced it would allow Democratic representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to visit 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’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranked elected Democrat, said in a statement.

She slammed Trump’s demand that Israel bar the lawmakers, saying, “The President’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”

Her comments were echoed by the top Democrat in the Senate, New York’s Chuck Schumer, who also criticized Trump’s pressure on Israel.

“Denying entry to members of the United States Congress is a sign of weakness, not strength. It will only hurt the US-Israel relationship and support for Israel in America,” Schumer said. “No democratic society should fear an open debate. Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who recently led a trip of dozens of US lawmakers to Israel, said he urged the country to allow the congresswomen in when he met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week, and panned Israel’s decision “outrageous,” and “wrong.”

“This action reflects weakness, not strength,” he said in a statement. “When Members of Congress visit Israel, they gain a stronger appreciation for its unique challenges and the existential threats that endanger Israel’s survival as a Jewish, democratic state.”

The current frontrunner in the 2020 Democratic presidential field, former vice president Joe Biden, slammed both Israel’s reversal and Trump’s comments.

“I have always been a stalwart supporter of Israel — a vital partner that shares our democratic values. No democracy should deny entry to visitors based on the content of their ideas — even ideas they strongly object to. And no leader of the free world should encourage them to do so,” he said.

The criticism also crossed the aisle in some cases. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, called the Israeli decision a “mistake.”

“Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along,” Rubio said on Twitter, “in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.”

Jerrold Nadler, a longtime Democratic member of Congress and the current House Judiciary Committee chairman, said, “I strongly condemn this decision by the Israeli government, which undermines the ability for our two allied countries to have the frank, open and, at times, difficult discussions that we must have in order to ensure Israel remains a secure and democratic nation.”

Tlaib and Omar’s closest political allies also rallied to their defense.

New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez slammed the Israeli decision as Islamophobic.

Members of Congress, she said, “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. Trump is exporting his bigotry &making matters worse.”

The move was condemned by many 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said “Israel doesn’t advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering US ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views. This would be a shameful, unprecedented move.”

Former housing and urban development secretary Julian Castro slammed the move as “appalling.”

“Make no mistake, the Israeli government just barred two elected members of the US Congress from an official trip just to appease President Trump’s fragile ego. This is appalling. They should be allowed to enter.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders called the refusal of entry to “Israel and Palestine” a sign of “enormous disrespect to these elected leaders, to the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy. The Israeli government should reverse this decision and allow them in.”

Former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke focused his criticism on Trump, saying in a Twitter post, “President Trump, you show great weakness every single day — when you attack women of color, when you degrade the office of the president, and when you ask our allies to stoop to your level.”

California Sen. Kamala Harris called the decision “an affront to the United States. Open and engaged foreign relations are critical to advancing US interests. Trump is playing politics as he weakens our global leadership.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker slammed Israel for effectively siding with, or at least ignoring, Trump’s “racist rhetoric” in his attacks on the congresswomen.

“Trump’s constant attacks on Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib are no secret to Israeli leadership. Reversing this decision would demonstrate they understand the dangerous nature of Trump’s racist rhetoric both here at home and around the world,” he wrote on Twitter.

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