By JOSEFIN DOLSTEN
(JTA) — Israel’s decision on Aug. 15 to ban Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from entering the country has quickly prompted a wave of impassioned responses from across the Jewish community, including in Minnesota.
“The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas is disappointed by the Israeli government’s decision,” the group’s executive director Steve Hunegs said in a statement. “While we strongly disagree with Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib’s support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel and had significant concerns regarding the planned trip, we believe allowing the two Representatives to visit was consistent with their status as members of Congress, and Israel’s democratic character.”
Prominent Democratic lawmakers and pro-Israel groups such as AIPAC objected to the move. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also criticized the decision.
AIPAC’s statement, along with others from establishment Jewish groups, criticized Omar and Tlaib’s support for the movement to boycott Israel. But like others who have their differences with the two legislators, AIPAC said that Israel should nonetheless allow sitting members of the U.S. Congress to enter the country and see it for themselves.
“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,” AIPAC wrote on Twitter “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
Israel announced that the Muslim congresswomen would not be allowed to visit ahead of a planned Aug. 18 trip. Israel Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer had previously said Israel would not bar any members of Congress from visiting.
Israel’s reversal came shortly after President Trump wrote on Twitter that Israel “would show great weakness” if it let in the two congresswomen.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu blamed the decision on Tlaib and Omar, saying he received their itinerary a few days ago and that it “revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.” The itinerary said the destination was listed as Palestine and included no visit with any Israeli officials, he said.
Under Israeli law, people who support BDS, such as Tlaib and Omar, can be prevented from visiting Israel. are supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel. Tlaib and Omar have also at times invoked what critics call anti-Semitic tropes in criticizing the Jewish state.
Here are reactions from other Jewish groups, the United States Embassy in Israel and prominent lawmakers. JTA has asked several Republican lawmakers for comment, including Reps. Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee, as well as House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
Those who disagree with Israel’s decision
AIPAC (See above.)
The Jewish Federations of North America said in a statement that “every member of Congress, without exception, should be allowed to visit Israel, irrespective of whether we agree with their point of view.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center’s associate dean and director of global social action slammed Tlaib and Omar., calling them “unapologetic anti-Semites.” But Rabbi Abraham Cooper also added in a statement that “the first instinct of Israeli officials to let them into the country was [the] right one.”
American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris wrote on Twitter that “Israel faced a tough choice,” but that it “should’ve taken the high road & let these Members of Congress in, no matter how vile their views.”
The Anti-Defamation League likewise said that “while we absolutely disagree with the pro-BDS positions of Reps. [Omar and Tlaib], keeping them out is counterproductive.”
The executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, Halie Soifer, said in a statement that banning lawmakers “is counterproductive and plays into President Trump’s goal of politicizing support for Israel.”
Israel Policy Forum said the ban “can only serve to harden [Tlaib and Omar’s] current views, along with delivering an insult to the U.S. Congress.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., called the decision “a grave mistake.” He said in a statement that he had been working since yesterday to convince Israel to let in the congresswomen, including by speaking with Netanyahu and Dermer.
Rubio criticized the decision, writing on Twitter that while he disagrees with Tlaib and Omar, “denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake. Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.”
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a statement that the move “is a sign of weakness, not strength” that “will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America.”
In a statement, the co-chair and CEO of the Democratic Majority for Israel said Israel’s decision was “both wrong and unwise.”
Lobbying group J Street decried the decision in a statement, saying Trump’s tweet urging Israel to ban the members “illustrates that this decision is motivated purely by politics and ideology.”
Dan Shapiro, who served as ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama, criticized Israel’s about-face and wrote on Twitter that there would be “zero harm in letting them come learn, see (even if they had an agenda). Reversal harms Israel’s standing in US, boosts BDS.”
Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., called on Netanyahu to reverse the decision. He wrote on Twitter that barring Tlaib and Omar “is a sign of enormous disrespect to these elected leaders, to the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy.”
Another presidential candidate, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrote on Twitter that banning the congresswomen was “a shameful, unprecedented move” and urged Israel to allow them to enter.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that “Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter that the decision “undermines the ability for our two allied countries to have the frank, open and, at times, difficult discussions that we must have in order to ensure Israel remains a secure and democratic nation.”
Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter she was “saddened” by the decision and urged Israel to reconsider.
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., said he was “extremely disappointed” by the move.
Those who support Israel’s decision
The Republican Jewish Coalition threw its support behind Israel’s decision, noting that the country recently welcomed a congressional delegation of 70 lawmakers from both parties. The RJC said Netanyahu welcoming that delegation shows that this decision “has nothing to do with American partisan politics.”
Zionist Organization of America President Morton Klein and Chairman Mark Levenson praised the ban in a statement. The pair said that the congresswomen “should not be given the opportunity to further delegitimize and harm all of us.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman wrote on Twitter that he supports the decision, saying that the lawmakers’ trip itinerary showed the visit “is nothing more than an effort to fuel the BDS engine.”
Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., criticized the congresswomen’s Israel policies in a statement, saying “It shouldn’t be shocking they are unwelcome in a nation they are taking great pains to tear down.”