Aug 10, 2019

Scoop: Trump tells advisers Israel should bar entry to Reps. Omar and Tlaib

Reps. Rashida Tlaib (L) and Ilhan Omar. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

President Trump has told advisers he thinks Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should use Israel's anti-boycott law to bar Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from entering Israel, according to 3 sources familiar with the situation.

What he's saying: Trump's private views have reached the top level of the Israeli government. But Trump denies, through White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, ever giving any kind of directive to the Israelis. "The Israeli government can do what they want. It's fake news," Grisham said on Saturday.

Driving the news: Trump has told U.S. advisers, including senior Trump administration officials, that Israel should bar Omar and Tlaib's entry because the two congresswomen favor a boycott of Israel, according to sources familiar with Trump's private comments. In 2017, Israel's parliament passed a law requiring the interior minister to block foreign nationals from entering Israel if they have supported boycotting the Jewish state.

  • Trump's reaction came days after the U.S. House overwhelmingly passed a resolution to condemn the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, which Omar and Tlaib support. The resolution states that the global movement to boycott the state of Israel over its policies toward Palestinians "promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment, and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace and a two-state solution."
  • Omar and Tlaib voted against the resolution.

Between the lines: Trump told confidants he disagreed with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer's rationale for Israel to overlook the law to let Omar and Tlaib visit Israel. Dermer said last month: "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."

  • Trump said that if Omar and Tlaib wanted to boycott Israel, "then Israel should boycott them," according to a source with direct knowledge.
  • Israeli officials say congressional Democratic leadership pushed Dermer to allow the congresswomen into the country. Their advocacy, per those officials, is a major reason why Netanyahu will allow the two women in. 
  • The Democrats had argued that if the Israeli government blocked Omar and Tlaib's entry, then other Democratic members would cancel a planned, AIPAC-sponsored Israel trip in solidarity, these officials said.

Last week, Israeli deputy national security adviser Reuven Azar held an interagency meeting at the prime minister's office with representatives of the Foreign, Interior and Strategic Affairs ministries to prepare for the visit, according to Israeli officials who were briefed on the meeting. The officials added the meeting focused on how to react to anti-Israeli statements by Omar and Tlaib during the trip and whether to allow entry to people traveling with them who aren’t members of Congress and who support the boycott-Israel movement.

The big picture: Trump has spent the past month attacking Omar, Tlaib and 2 other progressive congresswomen. He suggested that the 4 women of color "go back" to where they come from, even though 3 were born in the U.S. The fourth, Omar, is a naturalized citizen from Somalia.

  • 235 House Democrats and 4 Republicans voted for a resolution in mid-July that "strongly condemns President Donald Trump's racist comments that have legitimized and increased fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color."

Trump, along with other Republicans and some Democrats, has condemned Omar, Tlaib and other progressive lawmakers for their past statements on Israel and the BDS movement. In January, Omar said she had "unknowingly used" an "anti-Semitic trope" when she tweeted, in 2012, that "Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel."

  • A month later, Omar tweeted that members of Congress who support Israel are primarily motivated by money. Referring to the pro-Israel group AIPAC, Omar wrote, "It's all about the Benjamins, baby!"
  • After lawmakers from both parties condemned her remark as anti-Semitic, Omar tweeted out a statement: "Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes."
  • "My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize."

What's next: Israeli officials say Omar and Tlaib are expected to arrive in Israel on Aug. 18, but the date might change. Omar and Tlaib's offices did not respond to requests for comment.

The Israeli Prime Minister's office did not deny this account, but refrained from commenting for this story. Two senior Netanyahu aides said the issue was very sensitive and they were not allowed to discuss it.

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