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Netanyahu Blocks Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib From Entering Israel

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  • 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.

Mixed Messages 

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.”

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)

International

E.U. and U.S. Sanction Russian Officials Over Navalny Detention

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  • The E.U. and U.S. coordinated new sanctions against seven Russian officials tied to the current fate of activist and Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
  • More efforts are expected to follow, with officials claiming that 14 Russian entities tied to the manufacturing of Novichok – the rare nerve agents that supposedly poisoned Navalny – are the next to be sanctioned.
  • Despite the sanctions, Biden’s administration hopes to be able to work with Russia on other world issues, such as nuclear arms in Iran and North Korea.
  • Navalny himself isn’t likely to benefit from the sanctions as he’s serving a 2.5-year prison sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies.

Coordinated Efforts by E.U. and U.S.

The U.S. and E.U. both announced coordinated sanctions against Russia Tuesday morning over the poisoning, arrest, and detention of Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

In particular, seven senior officials are targeted by the sanctions.

  • Federal Security Service Director Aleksandr Bortnikov
  • Chief of the Presidential Policy Directorate Andrei Yarin
  • First Deputy Chief of Staff of the Presidential Executive Office Sergei Kiriyenko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Aleksey Krivoruchko
  • Deputy Minister of Defense Pavel Popov
  • Federal Penitentiary Service director Alexander Kalashnikov
  • Prosecutor General Igor Krasnov.

Both the E.U. and U.S. also plan to add fourteen entities that are involved in making the extremely deadly Russian nerve agent Novichok.

First Step For Biden

These sanctions are the first such action by the Biden administration against Russia and seem to be a tone shift from the previous administration. The Trump administration was considered relatively soft on Russia and only enacted a few sanctions over election interference, which were only softly enforced.

One U.S. official, according to NBC News reportedly said, that “today is the first such response, and there will be more to come.”

“The United States is neither seeking to reset our relations with Russia nor are we seeking to escalate,” the official went on to add.

The man at the center of all this, Alexei Navalny, has been an outspoken critic of Putin who was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany after being treated for Novichok poisoning.

He was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison over alleged fraud crimes and is reported to have been sent to one of Russia’s worst penal colonies outside of the city of Pokrov to serve out his term.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (NPR) (NBC News)

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International

Biden Faces Criticism Over U.S. Airstrike in Syria

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  • On Friday, the U.S. conducted an airstrike against an Iranian-back militia in Syria after it shot rockets into northern Iraq and injured U.S. service personnel.
  • The airstrike marks the first in Biden’s presidency, and while normally a routine response, it caused particular backlash against the president, who campaigned on getting out of “forever wars” in the region.
  • Many felt like Biden was more concerned with bombing people in the Middle-East than he was with passing his $1.9 trillion stimulus package, which was being debated by Congress at the time.
  • The targeting of an Iranian-backed militia likely didn’t help efforts to start informal talks with Iran on Sunday in an effort to reignite the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Striking Back Against Militias

The U.S. military conducted an airstrike on an Iranian-backed militia in Syria on Friday, marking it as the first such airstrike under President Joe Biden’s term.

The airstrike was conducted as retaliation after the militia launched rockets into northern Iraq; killing civilians, contractors, and injuring a U.S. service member as well as other coalition troops.

Despite airstrikes being a routine response for such situations over the last 20 years, the decision caused Biden to face intense backlash in the U.S.

For many, it set the tone and seemed to contradict some of his earlier stances when running for office. In 2019, for instance, Biden made it clear that he wanted to get out of Iraq as soon as possible, as well as speed up the removal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan. However, such airstrikes are often blamed for further entrenching the U.S. in the region.

Biden received criticism across the political spectrum, with only a few conservatives praising the airstrike as a necessary move to protect U.S. troops.

In Congress, many Democrats called the move unconstitutional, a stance the party has had since at least 2018 when Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said a similar airstrike conducted by President Trump required the approval of Congress. The Biden administration pushed back against this, sending a letter to Congress on Sunday saying the president had the power to use limited force without the body’s approval via the War Power Act.

Public Perception in a Downward Spiral

Many Americans have mocked Biden for seemingly feeling comfortable enough to use his executive power to bomb militias while also expressing apprehension toward using that same power to forgive student loans.

Others pushed back against the idea that the airstrike was a form of defensive retaliation

“This latest Biden airstrike is being spun as “defensive” and “retaliatory” despite its targeting a nation the US invaded (Syria) in response to alleged attacks on US forces in another nation the US invaded (Iraq),” wrote one user on Twitter, “You can’t invade a nation and then claim self-defense there. Ever.”

Some of the biggest criticism the president received came from those who said it seemed like his priorities were off-base. Because while the airstrike was conducted, Congress was debating his $1.9 trillion stimulus package.

Civil Rights activist Ja’Mal Green, for instance, tweeted, “We didn’t flip Georgia Blue for Biden to air strike Syria. We flipped Georgia Blue for our $2,000 Stimulus Checks.”

However, it’s worth noting that there’s not much Biden can do right now to push his stimulus package through Congress, other than attempt to convince some on-the-fence senators like Joe Manchin (D-WV). Still, the perception of confused priorities was enough to anger many.

All of this likely didn’t help when the E.U. foreign policy chief, on behalf of all the countries who signed the Iran Nuclear deal, attempted to convince Iran to engage in informal talks to try and restart the deal on Sunday. A proposal was shot down by Iran.

Considering the recent actions and statements by the United States and three European powers, Iran does not consider this the time to hold an informal meeting with these countries,” said Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh

See what others are saying: (BBC) (NBC) (CNN)

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Nigerian Gunmen Kidnap Over 300 Students From Boarding School

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  • Gunmen abducted 317 girls from a Nigerian boarding school early Friday morning, making it the second major abduction in the northwest area of the country in over a week.
  • Militants loaded some girls on trucks while others were walked into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of miles and is spread over three states.
  • Authorities believe these abductions are being carried out by armed bandit groups seeking random rather than the jihadist groups in the region.
  • According to terror analysts, kidnapping is quickly becoming one of the most thriving industries in Nigeria and has led to 10.5 million Nigerian children being out of school – the most of any nation.

Abductions Before Dawn

Gunmen abducted 317 students early Friday morning from the Nigerian Government Girls Secondary School in Jangebe, Zamfara state.

They entered the building shooting, although it’s clear if anyone was hurt, and forced many girls onto trucks while others into the nearby Rugu forest, which covers hundreds of square miles and crosses multiple states. Some girls escaped, but by morning it was clear to the local community that hundreds were taken.

Zamfara police and security forces, backed by Nigerian army reinforcements, said they are in pursuit of the abductors.

This abduction is the second in a little over a week in the northwest area of the country. At the Kagara Government Science College in Niger state, dozens of schoolboys were abducted on February 17.

In December, 344 boys in Katsina state were also abducted before being freed a week later. At the time, the kidnappers claimed a ransom had been paid, a common motivation for such abductions, but security forces say the children were freed after they had surrounded the group.

Was the Kidnapping for Ransom?

Many abductions have a monetary aspect, with ransoms quickly being demanded; however, it’s currently unclear if Friday’s events were carried out by local bandits looking for a payout or one of the nation’s myriad of jihadist groups that occasionally take hostages.

Most are leaning towards believing this was a kidnapping for ransom due to it quickly becoming the nation’s most thriving industry, according to Bulama Bukarti, a terror analyst and columnist of northern Nigeria’s largest paper.

Unfortunately, the constant kidnapping in less-stable parts of the country, along with economic hardships, have caused parents to pull their children out of schools. Currently, there are more than 10.5 million Nigerian children out of school, the most of any nation. The issue is so prevalent that 1 in 5 of the world’s unschooled children are in Nigeria.

The government has struggled to respond to the rise of kidnappings, with officials both on the civilian side and within the military unsure of how to proceed. On one hand, there are those who want to deal with the issue head-on and attack kidnappers, but others want to try and resolve the issue with dialogue.

See what others are Saying: (NPR) (CNN) (Wall Street Journal)

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