US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar slams Israel's decision to bar her entry as 'chilling'

US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar slams Israel's decision to bar her entry as 'chilling'
Muslim-American lawmaker Ilhan Omar slammed President Donald Trump and Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu over the decision to ban her and Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel.
4 min read
15 August, 2019
Ilhan Omar had planned to visit the West Bank with Rashida Tlaib [Getty]

Ilhan Omar has slammed Israel's decision to bar her from visiting the country as "chilling", saying it was an "insult to deocratic values" to deny entry to sitting members of the US Congress.

The Somali-American Democrat congresswoman was earlier on Thursday denied entry to Israel along with fellow first-term Democrat Rashida Tlaib in a decision urged by President Donald Trump.

"It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the US government," Omar said in a sharply worded statement.

"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."

Omar and Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, had planned to lead a delegation touring the occupied West Bank in an effort to counterbalance an annual trip run by prominent pro-Israel lobby AIPAC.

But speculation that the two would never be able to enter the occupied Palestinian territories, the borders of which are controlled by Israeli authorities, were rife from day one.

Israel explicitly bans from entry supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a peaceful protest initiative designed to pressure Israel into ending its occupied of Palestinian land and ceasing human rights violations through economic, cultural and educational boycotts.

Read more: Why did Israel ban Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib?

Both Tlaib and Omar are outspoken supporters of BDS, having been among just 17 lawmakers to vote against a non-binding congressional resolution to condemn the movement last month. 

The Somali-American congresswoman has said the ban interferes with her congressionally mandated role to oversee how US foreign aid is spent abroad - including the roughly $3 billion that Washington hands to Israel annually. 

"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 said.

Omar also blasted Israel for essentially implementing "Trump's Muslim ban" by denying entry to the two congresswomen, the first Muslim-American women to be elected to the House.

Trump had demanded that Israel deny entry to Omar and Tlaib, accusing the congresswomen of anti-Semitism.

"It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep Omar and Rep Tlaib to visit," Trump said in a tweet on Thursday morning. "They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds."

Omar also slammed the Israeli premier, up for re-election next month.

Netanyahu "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 said.

Support from Democrats

Fellow Democrats vehemently criticized Israel's ban. Many said that while they break with the two lawmakers on their anti-Israel positions, they fully oppose efforts to block sitting members of Congress from visiting an international ally.

"As one who loves Israel, I am deeply saddened by the news that Israel has decided to prevent Members of Congress from entering the country," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a tweet. "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."

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also lashed out at Trump, accusing him of "exporting bigotry".

Ocasio-Cortez is, alongside Omar, Tlaib and fellow Democrat Ayanna Presley, one of "the Squad", the firebrand group of congresswomen that has been frequently targeted by Trump in attacks widely regarded as racist.

"[Members of Congress] are frequently asked to visit Israel to 'see things for ourselves.' But Netanyahu choosing to ban the only 2 Muslim women in Congress from entering tells the US that only *some* Americans are welcome to Israel, not all," Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet on Thursday. "Trump is exporting his bigotry &making matters worse."

Presley earlier called the decision "bigoted, short sighted and cruel".