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Israel banned Tlaib and Omar. The response in Washington was immediate

Widespread rejection in Washington of Israel's ban on Muslim congresswomen
Some Republicans and US administration officials have backed Israel's decision (AFP)

As news broke on Thursday that Israel would bar US congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting the occupied Palestinian territories, the reaction was immediate.

Palestine advocates decried the move as a brazen attempt by the Israeli government to punish its critics, while Israel's defenders said the ban was a defensive measure that aimed to prevent incitement.

It took longer for US politicians to speak out, but when they did, the divide between the country's two major political parties was clear.

Most Democrats who addressed the ban defended their colleagues, while some Republicans and US administration officials backed Israel's decision while criticising Tlaib and Omar for their views.

Many US politicians did not address the controversy at all.

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Here's how US politicians responded to Israel's ban on the two elected representatives.

US President Donald Trump

Before Israel officially confirmed the ban on Tlaib and Omar, Trump tweeted that "it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit".

"They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds," he wrote.

Later in the day, Trump also tweeted: "Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!"

Trump Netanyahu AFP
Trump is a staunch ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (AFP)

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman

Friedman, a staunch defender of the Israeli government, said Washington respected Israel's ban on the two US congresswomen because their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement made them ineligible to enter the country under Israeli law.

"Israel properly has enacted laws to bar entry of BDS activists ... and it has every right to protect its borders against those activists in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons," Friedman said in a statement.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham

"They are duly elected members of Congress, I get that. But they're openly supporting the BDS movement ... I understand both sides of the story here," Graham said in an interview with local US television station WLTX on Thursday.

"From my point of view, there have got to be consequences to your behaviour. If you openly join an international movement to destroy the State of Israel, then you'll suffer the consequences."

Senator Bernie Sanders

Sanders, one of top contenders vying for the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential nomination, slammed Trump for accusing the congresswomen of "hating the Jewish people".

"It is disgusting that a bigot like Trump is attacking [Tlaib and Omar] in this way," he tweeted on Thursday, referring to the president's tweet earlier that day.

"Opposing [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's policies is not 'hating the Jewish people.' We must stand together against those who promote hatred and racism in Israel, Palestine, the US and everywhere."

Sanders later posted a video online defending Tlaib and Omar, saying that he "absolutely reject[s] Trump's disgusting efforts to exploit fear of antisemitism to attack" the Democratic congresswomen.

Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren

Warren was one of the first 2020 presidential contenders to address the ban on Thursday.

"Israel doesn't advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering US ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views. This would be a shameful, unprecedented move," she tweeted, urging Israel to reverse the ban.

Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar

Another 2020 Democratic candidate, Klobuchar criticised the ban, saying "this is not what great democracies do".

"Vociferous disagreement on issues—yes. Denying congressional members entry—no," she tweeted. "As for the president's message that allowing the congresswomen to visit Israel would be a 'sign of weakness?' Exporting intolerance is the true sign of weakness."

Democratic Senator Kamala Harris

Harris said she doesn't "believe any nation should deny entry to elected members of Congress, period".

"It's an affront to the United States. Open and engaged foreign relations are critical to advancing US interests. Trump is playing politics as he weakens our global leadership," the 2020 presidential candidate tweeted, with a link to a story about Israel's ban on Tlaib and Omar.

Democratic Senator Cory Booker

Booker, who is still in the race to secure the Democratic presidential nomination, focused on Trump's attacks against Tlaib and Omar in the lead-up to Israel's decision to ban the congresswomen.

"Trump's constant attacks on Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib are no secret to Israeli leadership," he tweeted. "Reversing this decision would demonstrate they understand the dangerous nature of Trump's racist rhetoric both here at home and around the world."

Former US vice president Joe Biden

Biden, who is considered a frontrunner in the Democratic Party's 2020 presidential race, touted his pro-Israel credentials when addressing the ban on Thursday.

"I have always been a stalwart supporter of Israel—a vital partner that shares our democratic values," the former vice president tweeted. "No democracy should deny entry to visitors based on the content of their ideas—even ideas they strongly object to.

"And no leader of the free world should encourage them to do so," he added, in reference to Trump.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

Describing herself as "one who loves Israel," Pelosi said in a statement that she was "deeply saddened" by the country's decision to ban Tlaib and Omar.

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"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," said Pelosi, the speaker of the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives.

Earlier this year, Pelosi was accused of seeking to silence more progressive members of the Democratic Party, especially on the issue of Israel and Palestine - contrary to what the party's progressive base may want.

Critics also said Pelosi has not spoken out forcefully enough against Trump's attacks on Congresswoman Omar in particular.

"The president's statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the office of the president," she said on Thursday.

Democratic Representative Ayanna Pressley

Pressley, the first African-American lawmaker elected in the State of Massachusetts, had three words for the ban on her Democratic Party colleagues: "bigoted, short sighted and cruel".

"Any leader committed to advancing democracy would welcome with open arms two democratically elected United States Congresswomen. And every single member of Congress should be calling this out," she tweeted on Thursday.

Pressley is a member of The Squad, a group of progressive women lawmakers that has drawn the ire of Trump in recent weeks, along with Omar, Tlaib and New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Democratic Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ocasio-Cortez said on Thursday that the decision to ban members of Congress from Israel "harms [international] diplomacy".

"Visiting Israel & Palestine are key experiences towards a path to peace. Sadly, I cannot move forward w scheduling any visits to Israel until all members of Congress are allowed," she tweeted.

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