Israel bars US Muslim lawmakers

AIPAC, top Democratic lawmakers denounce Israeli PM’s block of anti-Trump, pro-BDS lawmakers’ visit to Israel.

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are barred from visiting Israel

Pelosi called travel ban "beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel"

US lawmakers expressed alarm at Trump's deviation from traditional diplomatic protocol

WASHINGTON - US Representative Rashida Tlaib on Friday said she would not visit her family in the Israeli-occupied West Bank as planned despite a reprieve by the Israeli government allowing her visit.

Under pressure from US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he would not allow Tlaib and fellow Democrat congresswoman Ilhan Omar to make a planned trip to Israel.

However, Netanyahu said that if Tlaib submitted a request to visit family on humanitarian grounds, Israel would consider it as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel.

Tlaib sent a letter to Israel's Interior Ministry on Thursday requesting permission to visit relatives, including her grandmother, who is in her 90s. It could be her last opportunity to see her, she said.

"I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit," Tlaib wrote in the request, which was circulated by the website Ynet and other Israeli media.

Tlaib, 43, has roots in the West Bank village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa, where her grandmother and extended family live. She later decided against making the trip over what she called Israel's "oppressive conditions".

"Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in - fighting against racism, oppression & injustice," Tlaib, a Democrat representing Michigan, said in a series of tweets.

'A sign of weakness'

Senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi, who was to have hosted Tlaib and Omar on a tour of the occupied West Bank, had earlier distanced herself from Tlaib's "humanitarian" visit.

Ashrawi said Friday that she does not get involved in personal visits and that the congressional visit is off until all participants "can have free access to Palestine."

Israel's decision to bar the two Muslim members of the US Congress drew strikingly sharp criticism from several allies to the Zionist state, including top Democratic lawmakers, presidential hopefuls and 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 block of the anti-Trump lawmakers' visit, a move encouraged by President Donald Trump himself.

While the group's members "disagree" with support by House Democrats Omar and 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 70 House and Senate Democrats publicly denounced Israel's rejection, while Republican lawmakers were largely silent following the 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 Trump weighed in via Twitter to say it would be showing "great weakness" if Tel Aviv allowed the lawmakers in, 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 Trump.

'How can anyone disagree?'

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 Omar remarks that were criticized as offensive to Israel and Jews which she has apologised for.

But colleagues rushed to their defense Thursday, angrily opposing the Israeli ban that Omar herself described as "chilling."

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

"The Trump Administration made a mistake in urging Israel to prevent them from entering the country," said Senator Susan Collins, one of the only Republican lawmakers to openly break with Trump over the incident.

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.

Trump himself insisted it was Israel's call.

"What they've said is disgraceful, so I can't imagine why Israel would let them in," Trump told reporters of the lawmakers. "But if they want to let them in, they can."

While most Republicans laid low, some support for Netanyahu's move, and Trump's intervention, trickled out.

Congressman Mo Brooks tweeted that Omar and Tlaib "hate, want to hurt, maybe even destroy" the "Jewish state".

"Israel bars enemies from entering Israel," the Alabama Republican added. "How can anyone disagree with that?"

The prospects of ending Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories and resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the so-called two-state solution which had guided international peace-making efforts since 1993 have all but evaporated, while illegal Israeli settlements in the territories have expanded.

The Trump administration, which is particularly close to the Netanyahu government, has touted its own peace plan but details remain vague. It has fueled Palestinian anger through a series of measures, including recognising occupied Jerusalem as Israel's capital, that are seen as obstacles to a workable peace deal.