TEL AVIV – Senior Democratic members of Congress are said to have launched discussions to formally censure the U.S. Ambassador to Israel and Jerusalem’s envoy in Washington over Israel’s decision to bar entry to congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.
Around a dozen lawmakers, several of whom are Jewish, have begun talks to communicate a “deep lack of confidence and trust” in Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer and U.S. envoy to Israel David Friedman, the McClatchy news service reported, citing congressional sources.
According to the report, the Democrats are considering releasing a statement of no confidence in Dermer and opening an inspector-general investigation into Friedman.
Among the twelve are House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel and House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, two Jewish lawmakers from New York.
“We are reviewing all of our options,” McClatchy quoted a source as saying. “With Dermer, the issue is that there already was a severe lack of trust. But now there is a severe lack of confidence. It is completely unclear that he represents his government given he has made promises that he has not kept and wasn’t clear if he ever had any chance of keeping.”
Last month, Dermer assured lawmakers that Omar and Tlaib — open supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel — would be allowed into Israel “out of respect for Congress.”
However, on Thursday, Israel said the two would be denied entry.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement defending the decision to bar entry to Omar and Tlaib, said the two intended to use the visit to harm Israel.
“Several days ago, we received [Omar and Tlaib’s] trip itinerary,” Netanyahu said, “which clarified that they planned a visit whose sole purpose was to support boycotts and deny Israel’s legitimacy. For example, they called their destination ‘Palestine’ and not ‘Israel,’ and unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress before them, they did not seek any meeting with any Israeli official, whether government or opposition.”
On Friday, Omar claimed that she had planned to meet with Knesset members and security officials, although the jam-packed itinerary — released days before their planned visit — showed otherwise.
The trip, according to the itinerary, would be based exclusively in the Palestinian territories with the exception of the first day that would take place in the primarily Arab-populated eastern area of Jerusalem. The two were slated to meet only with Palestinian officials as well as representatives from human rights groups and other organizations.
The congresswomen were scheduled to meet with representatives from Palestinian groups Miftah, a sponsor of the trip, and the Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), groups that have endorsed terrorism and have ties to terror organizations.
“In addition, the organization that is funding their trip is Miftah, which is an avid supporter of BDS, and among whose members are those who have expressed support for terrorism against Israel,” Netanyahu said.
The prime minister said that Tlaib was welcome to apply to visit on humanitarian grounds to see her family, with the caveat that she not engage in promoting boycotts of Israel while in the country. Tlaib acquiesced, and quickly received permission to visit. However, she changed her mind hours later, saying that coming to Israel on its terms would be “humiliating” and she would not “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who recently led a large Democratic delegation to Israel, issued a statement Thursday censuring Israel over the decision and said it contradicted what he and others had been told by Dermer.
McClatchy quoted the source as saying, “Dermer is saying privately that he expects this to go away within a day — it’s a real lack of understanding on the consequences of this.”
In the discussions Friday, the lawmakers raised an incident in 1975 in which Henry Waxman, a longtime Democratic congressman from California, was initially banned from Saudi Arabia for his Jewish roots. He was eventually granted entry following pressure from the State Department.
Friedman’s endorsement of Israel’s decision to bar Omar and Tlaib’s entry into the country broke with that precedent, they argued, and as a result called for an investigation “into the role the ambassador played in barring them from entering the country,” the report quoted another congressional source as saying.
The decision to bar the two Muslim lawmakers from entering Israel came shortly after President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that, in doing so, Israel would be showing “great weakness.”
Both Trump and Dermer have denied that the president pressured Israel into backtracking.