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The Need To Know: Why Israel Won’t Let Omar, Tlaib Visit

Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were supposed to travel to the West Bank this weekend. Now Israel won’t let them in. Why?

After all, even American Jewish groups and politicians like AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer – none of them fans of Omar and Tlaib – said Thursday that Israel had made the wrong decision. Forward Opinion writer Emma Goldberg said it doesn’t bode well for Israeli democracy.

Some background: Omar and Tlaib are the only two representatives to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.

Israel has a law on the books that it uses to turn away BDS supporters, even Jewish ones. Yet last month, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said the Jewish state would allow the duo in.

Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, has been trying for months to organize a congressional delegation to the area. Only Omar signed up. More than 40 other Democrats went on AIPAC’s annual Israel trip, where they met with Israeli and Palestinian government officials.

Omar and Tlaib were planning to meet with activists, and with American diplomats. They were planning on staying in eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank, which Israel controls and Palestinians claim as their state. They called the trip a visit to “Palestine;” neither Israel nor the U.S. recognizes such a place.

Still, the trip was moving forward until Thursday. That was when Prime Minister Netanyahu stopped the trip, because “the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it.” What changed?

Well, President Trump tweeted that letting Omar and Tlaib into Israel would “show great weakness.”

Netanyahu is a few weeks away from elections, and he’s staked his reputation on two things: toughness, and close ties with the White House.

Omar responded saying:

“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.”

The Forward will continue to monitor the situation.

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Editor’s note: A previous version of this email incorrectly stated Benjamin Netanyahu’s title as president, he is prime minister of Israel.

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