- Israel announced that it will not let Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib enter the country for a previously planned trip.
- The move comes after it was reported that President Donald Trump told his aides he wanted Israel to prevent the congresswomen from entering the country earlier this week.
- Trump’s Press Secretary denied the reports Thursday morning, but then an hour later Trump tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people.”
- Democrats and several U.S.-based Israeli organizations condemned the move, which many believe will create a rift between Israel and the Democratic party.
Israel Bars Omar and Tlaib
Israel has banned Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from entering the country for a previously planned trip, Israeli officials announced Thursday.
The two representatives were scheduled to leave on Sunday for a privately organized trip to both Israel and Palestine, where they were expected to tour holy sites and meet with activists and humanitarian leaders. No official meetings were scheduled.
Tlaib, whose family is from Palestine, was also planning to stay a few days longer to visit her grandmother who lives in the West Bank.
The two congresswomen were denied entry because of their support for the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, a position that they both have frequently been criticized for.
The goal of the BDS movement is to pressure Israel to change its treatment of Palestinians by protesting Israel and it’s West Bank settlements, which are considered illegal under international law.
Those who support the movement compare it to the boycotts of South Africa during apartheid, while opponents of the movement say it is anti-Semitic and undermines Israel as a Jewish state.
In 2017, Israel passed a law allowing them to deny entry to people who support the BDS movement, a move that many human rights activists and others condemned.
Despite the fact that Israel has that law, barring Omar and Tlaib from going to the country entirely is unprecedented. It also marks is a significant reversal.
Last month, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said that Israel would not deny the two congresswomen from visiting.
“Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” Dermer said in a statement.
However, last week, Axios reported that President Trump had told his aides that he thought Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should bar the two women from entering the country.
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham denied Axios’ report on Saturday.
“The Israeli government can do what they want,” she said. “It’s fake news.”
Then on Wednesday, it was reported that Netanyahu was holding meetings with cabinet officials to reach a final decision about whether or not to allow the Omar and Tlaib to visit.
According to reports, Israeli officials told U.S. lawmakers said they would announce the decision Wednesday but later postponed the announcement to Thursday after receiving backlash from Democratic leadership and a few U.S.-based pro-Israel organizations who warned them the move would be inconsistent with Israel’s claims that they are a tolerant and open democracy.
On Thursday morning, amid reports that Netanyahu was reconsidering the decision to let the congresswomen visit because of Trump, Grisham told CNN that “the reports Trump told Netanyahu he thought the two congresswoman should be barred were ‘inaccurate.’”
However, about an hour later, Trump seemed to contradict that statement in a tweet, writing “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people,
Responses Condemning Israel’s Decision
Following Israel’s announcement, many responded criticizing the move.
“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,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) wrote on Twitter.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also called for Israel to reverse its decision to bar Omar and Tlaib in a tweet.
A number of other Democratic representatives also took to social media to condemn the move as well.
Others pointed to Trump’s tweet from last month, where he said the four congresswomen in the “Squad,” including Tlaib, should “go back” to the countries they came from. Tlaib and two of the other members of the Squad were born in the U.S., and all four are U.S. citizens.
“First he tells Congresswoman Tlaib to ‘go back’ to ‘her’ country, and then he tells that country not to let her in,” Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ) wrote in a tweet.
U.S.-Based Israeli Groups Respond
Notably, a number of U.S.-based Israeli organizations criticized Israel’s decision.
The American Jewish Coalition, which advocates for closer U.S.-Israel ties, tweeted a statement saying: “AJC believes that, out of two less-than-ideal options, neither of which was risk-free, Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision.”
Israel Policy Forum, a New-York based Jewish organization also shared a series of tweets, arguing that any of member of Congress should be able to visit Israel and calling on Netanyahu to reverse the decision, which they also said created a “dangerous precedent.”
Any sitting member of Congress should be welcome to visit Israel as official representatives of Israel’s closest ally and most critical source of international support.— Israel Policy Forum (@IsraelPolicy4m) August 15, 2019
Denying them entry can only serve to harden their current views, along with delivering an insult to the U.S. Congress, exacerbating partisan divides on Israel, and creating a dangerous precedent. We strongly urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to reconsider.— Israel Policy Forum (@IsraelPolicy4m) August 15, 2019
Perhaps most notable was the response from AIPAC, which is one of the most powerful pro-Israel lobbies.
“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,” the group wrote on Twitter. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
Responses Supporting Israel’s Decision
There were also people who supported Israel’s decision. Conservative commentator Steven Crowder argued in a tweet that the congresswomen “were going to actively lobby AGAINST Israel. Bibi made the right call.”
Fox News host and commentator Mark Levin also responded in a tweet, writing, “Israel is right to deny entry to its country by these two bigots.”
Netanyahu, for his part, addressed the decision in a statement.
“As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to all its critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel,” he said.
Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri also backed up the decision.
“The State of Israel respects the U.S. Congress, as part of the close alliance, but it is inconceivable that anyone who wishes to harm the State of Israel will be allowed,” he said in a statement.
Deri added that he would “consider” letting Tlaib go visit her family.
Tlaib & Omar Respond
Tlaib and Omar both responded to the actions taken by Israel later on Thursday.
Tlaib shared a picture of her grandmother in a tweet, and wrote, “The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”
Omar also responded on Twitter.
“It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government,” she wrote in a statement.
“The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation,” she added.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Vox) (Fox News)
Biden Vows to Defend Taiwan if Attacked by China
Some praised the remarks for clarifying U.S. foreign policy, while others feared they could escalate tensions with China.
Biden’s Remarks Create Confusion
During a Monday press conference in Tokyo, U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would intervene to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.
The remark caught many off guard because it contradicted decades of traditional U.S. foreign policy toward China.
A reporter said, “You didn’t want to get involved in the Ukraine conflict militarily for obvious reasons. Are you willing to get involved militarily to defend Taiwan if it comes to that?”
“Yes,” Biden answered. “That’s a commitment we made. We are not — look, here’s the situation. We agree with a One China policy. We signed onto it and all the attendant agreements made from there.”
“But the idea that it can be taken by force — just taken by force — is just not appropriate,” he continued. “It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine.”
Beijing considers the Taiwanese island to be a breakaway province, but Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, has claimed to represent the real historical lineage of China.
Since 1972, the U.S. has officially recognized only one China, with its capital in Beijing. However, Washington maintains extensive informal diplomatic ties with Taipei and provides military assistance through weapons and training.
Successive U.S. presidents have also committed to a policy of “strategic ambiguity,” refusing to promise or rule out a direct military intervention in case China attacks Taiwan.
The strategy is meant to deter China while avoiding a hard commitment to any action.
Biden Sparks Controversy
The White House quickly sent a statement to reporters appearing to walk back Biden’s remark.
“As the president said, our policy has not changed,” the statement said. “He reiterated our One China Policy and our commitment to peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait. He also reiterated our commitment under the Taiwan Relations Act to provide Taiwan with the military means to defend itself.”
Monday was not the first time Biden made similar remarks regarding China and Taiwan.
Last August, he promised that “we would respond” if there was an attack against a fellow member of NATO and then added, “same with Japan, same with South Korea, same with Taiwan.”
In October, he again told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that the U.S. would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack, prompting the White House to hurriedly walk back his statement.
Monday’s remark was received with support as well as criticism.
“Strategic ambiguity is over. Strategic clarity is here,” Tweeted Matthew Kroenig, professor of government at Georgetown University. “This is the third time Biden has said this. Good. China should welcome this. Washington is helping Beijing to not miscalculate.”
“It is truly dangerous for the president to keep misstating U.S. policy toward Taiwan,” historian Stephen Wertheim wrote in a tweet. “How many more times will this happen?”
“The West’s robust response to Russian aggression in Ukraine could serve to deter China from invading Taiwan, but Biden’s statement risks undoing the potential benefit and instead helping to bring about a Taiwan conflict,” he added. “Self-injurious and entirely unforced.”
Biden also unveiled the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), a trade agreement signed by the U.S. and 12 Asian nations.
The agreement appeared to many like another move to cut off China from regional trade pacts and supply chains in Washington’s strategic competition with Beijing.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The New York Times) (The South China Morning Post)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.