Top Dem: 'We have deep love, respect for people of Israel'

Pelosi: We can’t let ‘weakness’ of Trump, Netanyahu harm US-Israel ties

Amid uproar over decision to bar lawmakers Tlaib and Omar from visiting Jerusalem, West Bank, House speaker says Washington’s commitment to Jerusalem not dependent on either leader

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat- California, speaks at the Capitol in Washington, June 5, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrat- California, speaks at the Capitol in Washington, June 5, 2019. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday that the US-Israel relationship can withstand the “weakness” of US President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who shook diplomatic norms this week in barring two members of Congress from visiting the country.

Pelosi told The Associated Press Friday that the “weakness of Netanyahu and the weakness of Donald Trump combined” into a policy that’s “a no.”

“We have a deep relationship and long-standing relationship with Israel that can withstand Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu,” Pelosi said. “We cannot let their weaknesses stand in the way of our ongoing relationship.”

She said the US commitment to Israel isn’t dependent on either leader, a sign there may not be lasting fallout from this week’s incident, particularly in terms of foreign aid, which must be approved by Congress.

US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office of the White House, March 5, 2018. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

In an extraordinary move, Netanyahu, with a push from Trump, barred entry for Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota ahead of their planned visit to the country. Tlaib was later granted a humanitarian exception to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, but ultimately decided against the trip.

Trump views the freshmen congresswomen as among his chief opponents — part of the “squad” of newly-elected liberal lawmakers — who he has called out at his rallies and in racist tweets as he runs for re-election.

The congresswomen have spoken in favor of a boycott of Israel, and were barred under a controversial 2017 Israeli law prohibiting any foreigner from entering the country who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

Both leaders are up for re-election — Netanyahu in the fall, and Trump next year. Critics of the decision framed it as stoking divisions for short-term political gain at the expense of harming the deep ties that Israel has long enjoyed with both political parties in the US.

Pelosi said she had “great, great, great sadness” over the decision, but she was not discouraging other lawmakers from visiting Israel.

“Members will make their own decisions about this, but I would not discourage travel to Israel,” Pelosi said.

“We have a strong relationship with Israel as well as a deep love and respect for the people of Israel. And, again, this is not going to undermine that, try as President Trump will to do that.”

Israel had announced in July that it would allow Omar and Tlaib to visit, but on Thursday, shortly after Trump tweeted that allowing them to enter would “show great weakness,” Jerusalem reversed that decision.

Reps. Rashida Tlaib, left, and Ilhan Omar, right. (AP/Andrew Harnik, File, J. Scott Applewhite)

The ban was criticized in Israel by centrist, left-wing and Arab Israeli lawmakers, and by many prominent US Democratic leaders, notably including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who led a group of Democratic congressmen on a visit to Israel just days ago.

The ban was also criticized by the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby group, and was not backed by the umbrella Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, even after the Conference hosted a call by Israel’s Ambassador Ron Dermer seeking to justify the decision.

Netanyahu explained the decision to bar the congresswoman by alleging that their itinerary gave their intended destination as “Palestine” rather than “Israel” and showed they planned meetings only with Palestinian officials.

Netanyahu had said that “unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress before them, they did not seek any meeting with any Israeli official, whether government or opposition.”

Omar on Friday contradicted Netanyahu, saying she had in fact planned meetings with Israeli Knesset members and security officials.

Trump said on Friday that Tlaib had “obnoxiously” declined to visit the West Bank on humanitarian grounds, and accused her of requesting the meeting as part of a “setup.”

On Thursday Pelosi said that “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.”

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.”

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