“[Benjamin] Netanyahu’s discriminatory decision to ban members of Congress from Israel harms international diplomacy”, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said on Thursday afternoon, hours after Israel’s deputy foreign minister barred Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from a planned visit to the county.
The two firebrand Muslim congresswomen were planning to visit the West Bank cities of Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, starting Sunday.
“Visiting Israel and Palestine are key experiences towards a path to peace”, AOC continued. “Sadly, I cannot move forward with scheduling any visits to Israel until all members of Congress are allowed”.
Ocasio-Cortez’s sharp rejoinder was expected. After all, Omar and Tlaib are one-half of “The Squad”, and when it comes to crew love (so to speak), AOC, Omar, Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley are unwavering in their loyalty.
For her part, Pressley hit back at Netanyahu immediately on Thursday. “When you attack one of us, you attack all of us”, the Massachusetts congresswoman said in a statement, on the way to accusing Netanyahu of “stoking division and punishing dissent just like the occupant of the White House”. (Pressley never refers to Trump as “President” – it’s always “the occupant”).
And she wasn’t done. “Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib are my dear friends, my sisters in service and hardworking Americans who have been subject to some of the most vile and vicious attacks simply for being who they are”, Pressley continued, adding that duly elected members of Congress “cannot be marginalized, discriminated against, nor targeted because of their gender, their religious beliefs, nor their ethnicity”.
Media reports on Thursday morning suggested Netanyahu was reconsidering an earlier decision to allow Omar and Tlaib to proceed with their planned trip. Trump was clearly involved in the discussions. The president lashed out with a vile tweet warning that Israel would be seen as “weak” if the two congresswomen – staunch critics of Israel’s human rights record – were permitted in the country. “They hate all Jewish people”, Trump lied.
Bernie Sanders was furious. “It is disgusting that a bigot like Trump is attacking Reps. Omar and Tlaib in this way”, he tweeted, before stating the obvious, which is that “opposing Netanyahu’s policies is not ‘hating the Jewish people'”.
As The New York Times writes, “some analysts say [Netanyahu] can ill afford to appear weak when dealing with high-profile critics of Israeli policies”, but the situation is complicated by “a high-wire act of trying to balance Israel’s ties with the Democrats and his close embrace of, and support from, Trump”.
Omar’s statement on Netanyahu’s decision was positively scathing. “It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the US government”, she said Thursday. Omar then accused Israel of “implementing Trump’s Muslim ban” only this time “against two duly elected Members of Congress”.
But she wasn’t incredulous. Rather, Omar suggested that this was simply evidence to support her criticism. “This is not a surprise given the public positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump”, she continued.
And then, Ilhan made it clear that this effectively renders it impossible for her to carry out her duties on committee. “As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it is my job to conduct oversight of foreign aid from the United States of America and to legislate on human rights practices around the world”, she reminded everyone. “The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation”.
For her part, Tlaib posted a picture of her grandmother in a tweet. “This woman… deserves to live in peace and with human dignity. I am who I am because of her”, an indignant Tlaib said. “The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a US Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness because the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening”. Tlaib is of Palestinian descent. Her grandmother lives in the West Bank.
“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”, Chuck Schumer cautioned. He also warned Israel that “Many strong supporters of [the country] will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse”.
Naturally, Trump took the high road, content to have succeeded in compelling Netanyahu to prohi…. I’m just kidding. He bragged about it. “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!”, the president screeched.
“Appalling” somehow doesn’t quite capture it.