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Decision to bar Omar and Tlaib widens rift between Israel and Democrats

netanyahu
Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to bar the entry of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) has threatened to further widen the rift between the Israeli government and the Democratic Party, which was only recently beginning to heal.

Why it matters: Netanyahu had a very tense relationship with President Obama as a result of the Iran nuclear deal. In the last 2 years, both the Israeli government and Democratic leaders tried to repair the relationship in order to keep support for Israel bipartisan. Those efforts actually bore fruit, but today’s decision has threatened to wipe out that progress.

  • It could take the relationship back to the deep crisis of March 2015, when Netanyahu worked with Republicans to organize a speech before Congress railing against Obama’s efforts to strike a deal with Iran.
  • The fact that Netanyahu backtracked on his original decision to allow Omar and Tlaib in as a result of pressure from President Trump is being viewed by Democrats as another example of Netanyahu picking sides in U.S. domestic politics.

What they're saying

A number of Democratic presidential candidates and senior Democratic leaders in Congress slammed Netanyahu’s decision, claiming it would harm the U.S.-Israel relationship.

  • Senior Democrats in Congress claimed Netanyahu lied to them about his intentions regarding Omar and Tlaib’s visit. A delegation of 41 House Democrats met Netanyahu last week and weren't told anything about him changing his policy.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who led the delegation, said today that Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer lied to him: "This action is contrary to the ... assurances to me by Israel’s ambassador to the United States that ‘out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any Member of Congress into Israel.’ That representation was not true."

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) slammed Netanyahu, calling his decision a "sign of weakness" that hurts many of Israel’s supporters in the U.S.

Democratic presidential candidates also criticized Netanyahu’s decision.

  • Joe Biden, the most pro-Israel candidate and arguably the most pro-Israel Democrat, said: "No democracy should deny entry to visitors based on the content of their ideas—even ideas they strongly object to." Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris also issued critical statements.

Rep. Omar called Netanyahu’s decision an "affront" and said it was an attempt to limit public knowledge about Israeli occupation in the West Bank.

Rep. Tlaib, who is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, tweeted a picture of her grandmother: "This woman right here is my sity. She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her. The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness [because] the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening."

But maybe the most interesting criticism came from the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, which led the efforts to repair the relationship between the Israeli government and the Democratic Party as part of its own efforts to maintain Israel as a bipartisan issue. This was the second time in less than 6 months that AIPAC publicly criticized a decision by the Israeli prime minister.

  • AIPAC tweeted: "We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."