Gun epidemic is personal for lawmakers touched by violence
Omar says US should reconsider aid to Israel
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said Monday that U.S. aid to Israel should be tied to its treatment of Palestinians, questioning whether the funds should continue after the country blocked her and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from visiting in an official capacity.
Omar had planned to travel with Tlaib to Israel this month until the Israeli government announced last week that it would deny them both entry, citing their past criticism.
Omar and Tlaib, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, held a joint press conference on Monday to denounce that decision, which came after President Trump tweeted that it would show "great weakness" for Israel to allow the two lawmakers into the country.
Omar suggested that lawmakers reconsider the annual U.S. aid allocated to Israel in response.
"We give Israel more than $3 [billion] in aid every year. This is predicated on them being an important ally in the region and the only democracy in the Middle East. But denying a visit to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally, and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self-determination is not consistent with being a democracy," Omar said at the press conference in St. Paul, Minn.
Omar, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, also argued that U.S. aid should be contingent upon Israel's activity in Palestine.
"We must be asking, as Israel's ally, that [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu's government stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian lands and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are to give them aid," Omar said.
Israel is one of the biggest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, according to the Congressional Research Service. The U.S. and Israeli governments signed a new 10-year memorandum of understanding in 2016, with the U.S. pledging to provide $38 billion in military aid to Israel that runs through fiscal 2028.
Omar expressed gratitude for the "solidarity" from other Democrats who have expressed outrage at Israel's decision to bar her and Tlaib. At least two progressives, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), have called for refraining from visiting Israel until all members of Congress can go.
But Omar called on fellow lawmakers to visit the country to conduct congressional oversight.
"It is my belief that, as legislators, we have an obligation to see the reality there for ourselves. We have a responsibility to conduct oversight over our government's foreign policy and what happens with the millions of dollars we send in aid. So I would encourage my colleagues to visit," Omar said.
Ocasio-Cortez, a close ally of Omar and Tlaib, tweeted last week that "Netanyahu's discriminatory decision to ban members of Congress from Israel harms int'l diplomacy. ... Sadly, I cannot move forward w scheduling any visits to Israel until all members of Congress are allowed."
Pocan, a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, also said that lawmakers should reconsider visits and aid to Israel in response.
"No more members of Congress, no delegations, should be going to Israel unless this decision is reversed. And I think we're going to have to have some serious conversations even about financial support," Pocan told The Hill.
The call from Pocan came after dozens of lawmakers in both parties visited Israel on congressional delegations this month over the August recess, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Omar and Tlaib said Virgin Islands Del. Stacey Plaskett (D) had also been slated to join them for their trip. Omar said the trip was scheduled to include meetings with members of the Israeli Knesset, Palestinian civil society groups and United Nations officials, despite Netanyahu's claim that their trip itinerary "revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel's legitimacy."
"The decision to ban me and my colleague, the first two Muslim American women elected to Congress, is nothing less than an attempt by an ally of the United States to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials," Omar said.
The Netanyahu government said it would still allow Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, to enter the country to visit her grandmother if she filed a humanitarian request. Tlaib initially filed a request and said that she would not vocalize her support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel while in the region.
But she reversed course a day later after speaking with her family, recounting how her grandmother calls her her "free bird."
"She said I'm her dream manifested. I'm her free bird. So why would I come back and be caged and bow down when my election rose her head up high, gave her dignity for the first time?" Tlaib said Monday, growing emotional.
"And so through tears at 3 o'clock in the morning, we all decided as a family that I could not go until I was a free American United States congresswoman coming there not only to see my grandmother but to talk to Palestinian and Israeli organizations that believed my grandmother deserved human dignity as much as anyone else does."