Aipac, Democrats seethe as Israel bars US Muslim lawmakers

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Capitol in Washington August 1, 2019. — Reuters pic
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Capitol in Washington August 1, 2019. — Reuters pic

WASHINGTON, Aug 16 — Israel's decision to bar two Muslim members of the US Congress drew strikingly sharp criticism from a range of allies to the Jewish state — from top Democratic lawmakers and presidential hopefuls to influential pro-Israel lobby Aipac.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, widely supported by Democrats and Republicans alike in Washington, led a collection of pro-Israel groups in denouncing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's move.

While the group's members “disagree” with support by lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib for a boycott on Israel, Aipac said “we also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”

More than 60 House and Senate Democrats publicly denounced the move against Omar and Tlaib, while Republican lawmakers were largely silent following Netanyahu's announcement.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a staunch Israel ally on Capitol Hill, called the decision “a sign of weakness (that) will only hurt the US-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi herself has clashed with Omar and Tlaib, who have been accused of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel statements.

But Pelosi, the top Democrat in Congress, called the travel ban “beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.”

Israel scrapped the visit shortly after US President Donald Trump weighed in via Twitter to say it would be showing “great weakness” if the Jewish state allowed the lawmakers to visit, leading to suspicion that Netanyahu acted only after receiving ally Trump's imprimatur.

That notion was reinforced by Israel's ex-ambassador to Washington Danny Ayalon, who tweeted that his government had “rightfully decided to accept that recommendation” from the US leader.

Omar, a Somali refugee, and Tlaib, born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrants, have faced censure from colleagues in Congress.

The House of Representatives voted to condemn anti-Semitism in March, after a series of statements by Omar that were widely condemned.

But colleagues rushed to their defence yesterday, angrily opposing the Israeli ban that Omar herself described as “chilling” and “an insult to democratic values.”

Several lawmakers expressed alarm at Trump's deviation from traditional diplomatic protocol, saying his interference will only drive a wedge between the two longstanding allies and undermine the bipartisan basis for congressional support.

“Israel should stand up to President Trump and allow our colleagues to visit,” tweeted Palestinian American congressman Justin Amash, who quit the Republican Party in July after declaring Trump should be impeached.

Several Democratic presidential candidates piled on including frontrunner Joe Biden, attacking Netanyahu's decision and Trump's public meddling in a sovereign nation's affairs.

While most Republicans laid low, congressman Mo Brooks tweeted that Omar and Tlaib “hate, want to hurt, maybe even destroy” the Jewish state.

“Israel bars enemies from entering Israel,” he added. “How can anyone disagree with that?” — AFP