Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC criticises 'chilling' ban on lawmakers Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib visiting Israel

Pro-Israel lobby AIPAC criticises 'chilling' ban on lawmakers Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib visiting Israel
The prominent pro-Israel lobby AIPAC said that 'every member of Congress' should have the opportunity to visit Israel.
3 min read
16 August, 2019
The pair had planned to arrive in Israel on Friday [AFP]

Prominent pro-Israel lobby AIPAC has taken the out-of-character step to criticise Israeli Premier Binyamin Netanyahu for barring entry to two Muslim-American congresswomen.

Democrat lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib had planned to lead a congressional delegation to the occupied West Bank, but were abruptly banned by Israel just a day ahead of their scheduled arrival.

The pair have previously criticised AIPAC and other pro-Israel lobbies in the United States, with Tlaib earlier this year saying the delegation would act as a counterbalance to an annual trip run by AIPAC. 

Tlaib slammed the trip for freshmen lawmakers which occurred last week as "one-sided", saying "they don't show the side that I know is real, which is what's happening to my grandmother and what's happening to my family there".

But even AIPAC - one of the largest pro-Israel lobbies operating in Washington - has criticised the decision by Netanyahu to ban Omar and Tlaib from entering the occupied West Bank.

"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," the organisation said in a tweet on Thursday. "We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."

The statement bewildered many pro-Palestine advocates, who claimed the criticism was a sign that Netanyahu had gone "too far" in banning the lawmakers.

Journalist Mehdi Hasan retweeted the AIPAC statement, adding: "When even AIPAC can’t defend Netanyahu and Trump".

Democrats slam ban on Omar-Tlaib visit

The lobbying group was among other pro-Israel voices in American politics to express discontent with the decision.

Fellow Democrats vehemently criticized the ban, with many saying that while they disagree with the congresswomen's anti-Israel stance they 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".

Former Vice President and current presidential candidate Joe Biden also hit back at the decision, saying: "I have always been a stalwart supporter of Israel—a vital partner that shares our democratic values. 

"No democracy should deny entry to visitors based on the content of their ideas—even ideas they strongly object to."

Fellow Democrat presidential candidates Kirsten Gillibrand and Kamal Harris also slammed the ban.

Republican Senators Susan Collins and Marco Rubio also rebuked the decision as a "mistake".