AIPAC backs visit by Omar and Tlaib to Israel

AIPAC backs visit by Omar and Tlaib to Israel

The prominent pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee suggested Thursday it opposed a move by Israel — and supported by President Donald Trump — to bar Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country.

AIPAC, which advocates for a staunch alliance between the US and Israel, has frequently sided with Trump administration policies that have supported Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, making its opposition especially notable.

“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. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” AIPAC tweeted early Thursday afternoon.

Omar and Tlaib, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, have frequently criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and expressed support for the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement, which aims to end international support for Israel because of its policies toward Palestinians. That support was cited by the Israeli government as the basis for blocking them from entering the country.

The two congresswomen have previously been criticized by AIPAC. Omar drew controversy earlier this year for suggesting Republican support of Israel is fueled by donations from AIPAC. The Minnesota Democrat later apologized, but reaffirmed what she called the “problematic role of lobbyists in our politics,” including AIPAC. She insinuated pro-Israel groups were pushing “allegiance to a foreign country.”

Netanyahu spoke at the annual AIPAC conference via video earlier this year and condemned Omar’s comments, saying, “it’s not about the Benjamins” and that the “reason the people of America support Israel is not because they want our money, it’s because they share our values.”

The move to bar the two US congresswomen from Israel was encouraged by Trump, who has frequently criticized Omar and Tlaib and accused them of being anti-Semitic. The decision to bar the congresswomen, however, amounts to a remarkable step by the Israeli government to punish political opponents of the US President.

The head of the American Jewish Committee, David Harris, put out a statement siding with AIPAC and said “Israel did not choose wisely” in this decision.

Harris writes, “While we are under no illusions about the implacably hostile views of Reps. Omar and Tlaib on Israel-related issues, we nonetheless believe that the costs in the U.S. of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative.”

Several members of Congress who have voiced disagreement with Omar and Tlaib over their views on Israel in the past condemned the decision to bar them from entering the country.

New York Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel called the move a “mistake” and said in a statement this decision will “only strengthen the anti-Israel movements and arguments.”

Engel, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, noted his own disagreements with Omar and Tlaib over matters related to Israel, but said the decision to bar the congresswomen makes it appear as if Israel is “closing itself off to criticism and dialogue.” Engel said he told Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer his views on the move.

Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio said he disagrees “100%” with Omar and Tlaib on Israel, but writes in a tweet that denying them entry into the country is a “mistake.”

“Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state,” Rubio writes.

Florida Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch said he was “disappointed” with Israel’s decision, and in a tweet questioned Trump’s encouragement of the move.

CNN’s Daniel Burke contributed to this report.