February 22, 2020

Jewish Groups React to Israel Barring Omar and Tlaib

U.S. Reps Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U.S. Congress moved to formally condemn President Donald Trump's attacks on four minority congresswomen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

Jewish groups across the United States shared varying opinions on Israel’s Aug. 15 decision to bar Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from visiting the Jewish state.

After Israeli Ambassador to United States Ron Dermer initially said in July that Israel will allow the congresswomen to enter the country, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced in a statement, “The state of Israel respects the US Congress as part of the close alliance between the two countries. But it is inconceivable that Israel would be expected to let into the country those who wish to hurt it, including by means of the visit itself.”

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted, “A good-faith visit to Israel is the best way to be exposed to its democracy, complexities, and range of views. And so while we absolutely disagree with the pro-BDS positions of Reps. @IlhanMN & @RashidaTlaib, keeping them out is counterproductive.”

American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris similarly tweeted that while Omar and Tlaib didn’t want to meet with “any Israeli leaders or mainstream voices,” Israel “should’ve taken the high road & let these Members of Congress in, no matter how vile their views.”

Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Journal in a phone interview that Israel should have allowed Omar and Tlaib in, pointing out that House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) both supported Israel’s initial decision to let Omar and Tlaib into the country.

“Israel could have withstood whatever antics would have played out,” Cooper said, adding that “when you flip flop at that level… it’s going to leave a big question mark and an opportunity for knockers of Israel to criticize her.”

However, he acknowledged that it’s “a damned if you, damned if you don’t” scenario for Israel and argued that had Omar and Tlaib gone with the delegation of 41 Democratic members of the House of Representatives, there wouldn’t have been any controversy.

AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] also criticized the move, tweeting that “every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”

Zioness accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of appeasing President Donald Trump, who tweeted earlier in the day that Israel would be demonstrating “great weakness” in letting in Omar and Tlaib, and argued the move would drive a wedge in U.S.-Israel relations.

“One does not have to agree with anything U.S. Representatives Tlaib and Omar say or do to comprehend just how cynical this game is that Trump is playing,” Zioness’ statement read. “Who wins at this game? Donald Trump, BDS activists, and frankly, those attempting to push the American left to adopt anti-Israel and anti-Semitic positions. Who loses at this game? International Jewry, democratic norms, and pluralism.”

Others thought that Israel’s decision was justified.

“On her first day in office, Rep. Tlaib placed a sticky [note] on a map of the Middle East, replacing Israel with ‘Palestine,’” The Israel Group Founder and President Jack Saltzberg said in a statement to the Journal. “Rep. Omar has continued to double down on her anti-Semitic rhetoric and tropes. And both women use their positions in congress to promote the BDS movement, which is dedicated to a one-state solution: a Muslim majority Palestine. Israel, like any nation, must keep out all people who are dedicated to the annihilation of its country, even those in congress.”

American Jewish Congress President Jack Rosen similarly argued in a statement, “Had [Omar and Tlaib] shown a true desire to commit to open and honest dialogue, they could have better understood the true character of the Israeli people and the reality in which they live on a daily basis. But sadly, this is not the case and the Israeli government’s decision is the right one.”

Omar released a statement saying, “Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing.”

Netanyahu defended his government’s decision, saying in a statement that a copy of Omar and Tlaib’s itinerary to Israel showed their visit’s “sole purpose was to support boycotts and deny Israel’s legitimacy. For example, they called their destination ‘Palestine’ and not ‘Israel,’ and unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress before them, they did not seek any meeting with any Israeli official, whether government or opposition.”

Netanyahu added that “the law in Israel that prohibits entry to people calling and advocating for boycotting the country, just like in other democracies that bar entry to those who they believe will do harm to their nation.”