- 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)
China Rushes to Build New Hospital as Coronavirus Spreads
- Chinese authorities announced plans to build a 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan by Feb. 3 to treat patients of a deadly new virus that has killed at least 26 people.
- More than 800 cases of the never-before-seen strain of the coronavirus have been detected.
- The majority of the cases are in China, though some have been found in other countries, including the United States.
- Officials hope the new hospital will help alleviate some of the pressure on China’s healthcare system, which has been overwhelmed in the wake of the outbreak.
Race to Build Hospital
In the wake of the new coronavirus outbreak that has killed at least 26 people, China announced plans on Friday to quickly build a 1,000-bed hospital to treat patients of the epidemic.
The hospital is being constructed in Wuhan, where the deadly “2019-nCOV” virus originated and is scheduled to be completed by Feb. 3. Images and video from Chinese media show dozens of workers preparing the site.
China’s healthcare system has been strained by the outbreak. At least eight hospitals across Wuhan have called for protective medical gear donations, according to the Associated Press, citing notices online. Video footage has emerged showing health facilities packed with people desperate for help.
“I am scared because this is a new virus and the figures are alarming,” an unnamed doctor told BBC. “The hospitals have been flooding with patients, there are thousands, I haven’t seen so many before.”
The expedited Wuhan hospital is reminiscent of another project that China undertook almost two decades ago. In 2003, when the nation was swept up by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus that spread to 28 other countries and killed nearly 800 people, a hospital was built from scratch in Beijing in just under a week.
The Wuhan structure is modeled off the Xiaotangshan SARS hospital in Beijing and is being made from prefabricated buildings that help with fast assembly.
What is the Coronavirus?
The outbreak causing all the panic is a novel coronavirus — a strain of the coronavirus that has never been seen before. According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe ailments. SARS is a member of this family.
Coronaviruses can be transmitted between people and animals. The novel coronavirus was suspected to have come from a seafood and live animal market in Wuhan, which has since been closed for disinfection. The new strain is particularly intimidating because it is not yet known how it affects people or how to treat it.
At least 12 Chinese cities near the center of the outbreak have been placed on a travel lockdown to prevent further spreading of the virus, affecting roughly 35 million residents. The lockdown comes just ahead of one of China’s most important holidays, Lunar New Year, throwing a wrench in many people’s celebration plans.
More than 800 cases of the virus have been detected and a few have been found in countries beyond China, including the United States. On Thursday, the World Health Organization said the new virus has not yet reached a level that makes it a global health emergency.
See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (Guardian) (The Washington Post)
Brexit Officially Becomes Law in the United Kingdom
- British Parliament passed a final Brexit withdrawal agreement on Wednesday.
- The following day, Queen Elizabeth gave the bill her royal assent, a formality that turns a bill into law.
- While the European Parliament is set to make the U.K.’s divorce from the European Union official next week, the U.K. still has a long journey ahead in laying out a new relationship with the EU and countries like the United States.
Brexit Becomes Law
After a bitter three and a half year struggle that resulted in the resignation of two prime ministers, protests, elections, and multiple delays, the United Kingdom has officially signed a Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Queen Elizabeth gave her royal assent to the bill on Thursday, a formality that gave the agreement the rule of law. Her signature came after parliament passed the agreement Wednesday evening.
In December, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party gained an 80 seat majority in Parliament’s elected lower house, the House of Commons. The massive win was seen as a mandate that the United Kingdom wanted to divorce itself from the European Union, and Johnson’s victory gave him the ability to pass the withdrawal agreement through the Commons with ease in early January.
The bill was then sent to the non-elected upper house, the House of Lords. On Tuesday, the Lords passed the bill back to the Commons with several amendments attached. Notably, one of those amendments included a provision that would have protected the rights of refugee children to be reunited with their parents if their parents were in the U.K. post-Brexit.
On Wednesday, the Commons used its majority to reject those amendments and tossed the bill back to the Lords. The Lords, lacking a majority to pass the amendments, passed the bill to prevent the U.K. from missing its current Jan. 31 deadline.
Before the U.K. officially leaves the EU, however, the EU’s parliament will also need to vote on a final approval of the withdrawal agreement. That vote is expected to happen Jan. 29, and like the Queen’s royal assent, this stage is also largely being viewed as a formality, with it easily expected to pass.
When it does, the U.K. will officially end its 40-year relationship with the EU.
Reaction to Brexit’s Passage
Unlike the raucous and theatrical debate normally associated with Brexit, the withdrawal agreement’s final passage was largely by the numbers and met with little resistance.
Thursday, when Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans announced in the Commons that the Queen had given her royal assent, only a handful of members of parliament either threw cheers or jeers. Likely, this is a consequence of December’s sweeping elections.
However, that doesn’t mean MP’s and other lawmakers haven’t stifled their strong feelings for the agreement’s passage.
Just after the royal assent announcement, Scottish MP Ian Blackford said the U.K. is facing a “constitutional crisis” because the legislatures in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland don’t support Brexit.
On Wednesday, member Alf Dubs—who had proposed the child refugee amendment—expressed his frustration on Twitter.
“It is bitterly disappointing that after a victory in the Lords, the government have voted down my amendment in the Commons,” he said. “What could be more humane than asking that unaccompanied child refugees stranded in Europe be able to join relatives in this country?”
To note, one of the reasons Dubs is so passionate about the amendment is because he came to the U.K. as a child to escape Nazi persecution shortly before the start of the Second World War.
On the other hand, on Wednesday, after Parliament passed the withdrawal agreement, Johnson said in a statement, “At times it felt like we would never cross the Brexit finish line, but we’ve done it.”
“Now we can put the rancour and division of the past three years behind us and focus on delivering a bright, exciting future – with better hospitals and schools, safer streets and opportunity spread to every corner of our country,” he added.
What Happens Once the Divorce Becomes Official?
Following next week’s expected divorce, the U.K. will begin an 11-month transition period with the EU that is currently scheduled to end on January 1, 2021.
During that time, it will continue to follow most of the EU’s rules, but it won’t actually have any decision-making power in the EU.
The U.K. and the EU will also continue to hash out details of what their relationship will look like after that transition period. For example, that includes things like an ambitious free-trade deal, agriculture, and security.
As for negotiations, those are expected to start either sometime next month or in early March, but like how Brexit saw multiple extensions, a lot of EU officials believe this transition period will also need to be extended. Many believe 11 months is too short of a time frame to completely work out all of the details. Johnson, however, has refused to agree to any extensions.
At the same time, Johnson has also been vocal about getting a free-trade deal with the U.S. While in Davos at the World Economic Forum, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin also indicated the U.S.’s desire for a trade deal, saying, “It’s an absolute priority of President Trump and we expect to complete that within this year.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also said that a trade deal shouldn’t be too hard because the U.S. and the U.K. have similar economies.
But the U.S. and U.K. are also currently in a disagreement over a so-called “tech tax.” That riff stims from the U.K.’s plan to introduce a digital services tax on tech companies like Facebook and Google. Mnuchin then threatened to retaliate by potentially slapping a tariff on U.K. car exports.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (The Independent) (Business Insider)
Greece Elects Katerina Sakellaropoulou as First Woman President
- Greece’s first female president was elected on Wednesday in an overwhelming majority vote.
- Beyond being a large step toward gender equality, Katerina Sakellaropoulou’s election to the largely ceremonial role was a rare display of unity in Greek politics.
- The high judge received support from lawmakers across all major political parties after being nominated as a nonpartisan candidate by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
- This was a notable move from the Prime Minister as all but one of the 18 senior positions in his Cabinet are currently held by men.
First Female President-Elect
History was made in Greece on Wednesday when Katerina Sakellaropoulou was chosen to be the nation’s first woman president.
The 63-year-old high court judge was elected to the largely ceremonial post by parliament in an overwhelming majority vote that showed unity among Greek politicians. She took the presidency in a 261-33 vote, well above the 200 votes needed to win, and received support from Greek lawmakers across all major political parties. Six members of parliament were not present.
After being notified of her election, Sakellaropoulou said she would strive for the “broadest possible consensus” while she fulfills her presidential duties.
Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis nominated Sakellaropoulou last week as a non-partisan candidate, a move some believe he took to counter the criticism he has faced for selecting nearly an all-male cabinet after he was elected in July 2019. In the current Greek Cabinet, all eighteen senior positions are held by men except for one.
Sakellaropoulou is a trailblazer in the effort to fix the gender imbalance in the country’s government. She has spent the last fifteen months serving as the president of the Council of State, the country’s top administrative court, and was the first woman to step into that role, too.
Sakellaropoulou will begin her five-year term in March, when the term of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, the current president, comes to an end.
Praise for Sakellaropoulou
Upon the news of Sakellaropoulou’s win, several prominent figures spoke up to express their support. Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, tweeted that Greece is “moving ahead into a new era of equality.”
Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, also applauded Sakellaropoulou on Twitter.
“A great signal to elect the Republic’s first female head of state,” Michel wrote. “I strongly believe that Greece will continue to contribute to the future development of the European Union.”
Prime Minister Mitsotakis described the new president-elect as “a great judiciary personality who unites all Greeks from the minute this procedure began.”