Democratic outcry after Israel bars entry to critical US lawmakers

TEL AVIV/WASHINGTON, dpa correspondents (dpa)- Israel's decision to deny entry to two US Democratic lawmakers ahead of a planned visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank has sparked a backlash against the country, with many criticizing the move as undemocratic.
The lawmakers, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, are among the most critical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and have voiced support for boycotting the country in a movement known as BDS.

"It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the US government," Omar said in a statement, adding that Netanyahu has "aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump."
Israel announced the decision after Trump said allowing Ilhan and Tlaib to enter the country would "show great weakness."
"They hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds," Trump tweeted of the two congresswomen in the US House of Representatives.
Tlaib and Omar are the first Muslim women elected to the US Congress and have been a frequent target of the president's attacks, including a recent call for them to "go back" to the countries they came from.
Trump's slurs against Omar, a refugee from Somalia, and Tlaib, a US-born citizen of Palestinian descent, was deemed racist by Democrats.
Israel's decision to bar the lawmakers was met with widespread outcry from Democrats.
Chuck Schumer, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, warned that the decision would hurt US-Israeli relations and US support for Israel.
"Denying entry to members of the United States Congress is a sign of weakness, not strength," Schumer said. "No democratic society should fear an open debate."
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the main pro-Israel lobby group in the United States, which rarely criticizes Israeli policies, disagreed with the decision, saying "every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified the country's decision by saying their trip's sole purpose is to "harm Israel and increase incitement against it."
"Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel," Netanyahu added.
Netanyahu cited the fact that neither woman requested a meeting with Israeli officials as proof of their stance, among other reasons.
He added that the Israeli Interior Ministry would, however, consider a humanitarian request for Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, to visit family in the West Bank and allow her entry if she "pledges not to act to promote boycotts against Israel.
In a tweet Tlaib posted a photo of her Palestinian grandmother stating the decision to deny entry "is a sign of weakness because the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening." 
Omar and Tlaib have previously courted controversy over for their support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS), which promotes economic pressure on Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.
In February Omar was forced to apologize for alleging that Israeli money controlled lawmakers.
Israel is in the midst of a campaign against BDS, which has had little economic impact but gained a number of largely symbolic wins, including pressuring well-known musicians to cancel their concerts in Israel.
The country has previously banned activists from organizations allegedly supporting BDS.
For many in Israel, BDS is anti-Semitic and a major threat to the country's existence. Politicians accuse the movement of unduly singling out the Jewish-majority country and seeking the destruction of the state by promoting the return of Palestinian refugees.
Tlaib and Omar were reportedly planning a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem along with Palestinian representatives. The Temple Mount is one of the holiest sites in the Jewish and Islamic faiths.
Hanan Ashrawi, a top Palestinian Liberation Official member, said in a statement that Israel's decision was an "outrageous act of hostility against the American people and their representatives."
"Israel, being the illegal occupying power of Palestine, has no right to impose such a ban," added Ashrawi.
Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and maintains military control over most of the territories, which is home to around 4.6 million Palestinians.
For decades the US has supported a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians that would establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, however, the Trump administration has declined to support the solution and taken a number of pro-Israel actions.
Netanyahu has also backed off supporting a two-state solution in the past decade and taken to hawkishly advocating Jewish settlement of the West Bank, which would impede a Palestinian state.
David Friedman, the right-wing US ambassador to Israel, called BDS "economic warfare designed to de-legitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish state." 
The lawmakers planned trip was "nothing more than an effort to fuel the BDS engine that Congresswoman Tlaib and Omar so vigorously support," Friedman said.

Thursday, August 15th 2019
dpa correspondents (dpa)

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