Aug 14, 2019

Scoop: Inside Israel's sensitive preparations for visit of Omar and Tlaib

Tlaib (L) and Omar. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Israel is preparing for the possibility that Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who are expected to arrive in the country on Friday, will want to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem together with representatives of the Palestinian Authority, Israeli officials tell me.

The big picture: Israel's ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, announced several weeks ago that out of respect for the U.S. Congress, Reps. Omar and Tlaib would be allowed to enter Israel despite their support for the BDS movement to boycott Israel. As Axios reported on Saturday, President Trump was disappointed in the decision to allow them to enter the country.

Among the scenarios Israeli officials are now preparing for is a visit to the Temple Mount, or Haram al-Sharif.

  • It's the most important holy site for Jews and third-most important for Muslims around the world. It is one of the most intensely contested sites in the Middle East, with Israel and the Palestinians both claiming sovereignty over it.

Last week, Israel's deputy national security adviser, Reuven Azar, held a classified interagency meeting to prepare for the congresswomen's visit.

  • The meeting was designated as highly sensitive due to the fact it took place while 41 House Democrats visited Israel.
  • Israeli officials briefed on the meeting said Azar asked the participants to keep the fact that the meeting had even taken place a secret.
  • When he concluded the meeting, Azar said “there is high probability” that Omar and Tlaib would want to visit the Temple Mount due to the fact both congresswomen are Muslim.
  • Azar instructed the Israeli police, who control access to the holy site, to ensure no Palestinian officials joined Omar and Tlaib on the visit.

According to Israeli officials, Azar stressed that “the preferred goal is that the congresswomen won’t come to Israel at all” — and cancel the visit for their own reasons.

  • He added that if they do arrive in Israel, the goal is to “minimize as much as possible the damage to Israel in the U.S. political system and public opinion."
  • All representatives of all government agencies present at the meeting agreed that Omar and Tlaib should be allowed in the country in order to avoid harm to the U.S.-Israel relationship, the sources said.

But, but, but: That doesn’t apply to Omar and Tlaib’s staffers or other delegation members.

  • Azar said Israel would assess the members of the delegation and decide whether to allow them in on a case-by-case basis, depending on their support of the BDS movement.
  • Azar instructed the Israeli Foreign Ministry to seek from the U.S. Embassy an advance list of delegation members in order to vet them in advance and notify those who would not be allowed to enter Israel.

Editor's note: This story has been updated to reflect a change in the timing of the congresswomen's arrival.

Go deeper

Israel bars Reps. Omar and Tlaib from entering after pressure from Trump

Reps. Ilhan Omar (L) and Rashida Tlaib. Photos: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images

Following pressure from President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has backtracked on his decision to allow Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to enter the country and is now barring the congresswomen over their support for the BDS movement.

The latest: Netanyahu issued a statement stressing that Omar and Tlaib were planning a trip whose "sole purpose is to strengthen the boycott and delegitimize Israel." Netanyahu said the congresswomen designated their trip as a visit to Palestine and not to Israel, and they did not ask to meet any Israeli official or member of the opposition. "Omar and Tlaib’s visit plan showed they only wanted to harm Israel," Netanyahu said.  

Go deeperArrowUpdated Aug 15, 2019

Trump encourages Israel to ban Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib

President Trump tweeted Thursday that it would show "great weakness" if Israel were to allow Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to enter the country during an upcoming congressional delegation visit on Friday.

"It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!"

Why it matters: As Axios' Jonathan Swan and I previously reported, Trump has privately been telling advisers that he thinks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should use an anti-boycott law to bar the two freshman congresswomen over their support for the BDS movement. In response to our story, the White House said that Trump didn’t pressure Israel in any way and that Israel can do whatever it wants.

Go deeperArrowAug 15, 2019

Tlaib says she won't visit Israel despite permission to visit family

Photo: Bastiaan Slabbers/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said Friday that she will not enter Israel due to the "oppressive conditions" placed upon her visit, despite the Israeli government's permission to enter Israel on humanitarian grounds to visit her family in the occupied West Bank, including her 90-year-old grandmother.

The big picture: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed course yesterday after pressure from President Trump and barred Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from a planned visit to Israel and the West Bank, saying the trip was meant "to strengthen the boycott and delegitimize Israel." In a letter requesting the visit to her family, Tlaib said she would "respect [her] restrictions" and would not "promote boycotts against Israel."

Go deeperArrowUpdated Aug 16, 2019