By Ben Sales
(JTA) — Rep. Ilhan Omar declared in a series of tweets that she not be present when Israeli President Isaac Herzog addresses a joint session of Congress next week.
“There is no way in hell I am attending the joint session address from a President whose country has banned me and denied
@RashidaTlaib the ability to see her grandma,” Omar, the Minnesota Democrat, tweeted Wednesday night regarding Herzog’s July 19 speech.
Omar’s tweet referenced Israel’s decision in 2019 to bar her and Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib from visiting Israel and the West Bank because both congresswomen support the movement to boycott Israel. Israel later said Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, could visit her grandmother in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds, but she declined the offer, citing “oppressive” conditions Israel was placing on the visit. (Tlaib does not appear to have commented publicly on Herzog’s address.)
Omar added, in a separate all-caps tweet, “We should not be inviting the president of Israel — a government who under its current prime minister barred the first two Muslim women elected to Congress from visiting the country — to give
a joint address to Congress.”
Herzog’s visit to Washington comes amid a chill in relations between President Joe Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has yet to receive an invitation to the White House. As president, Herzog serves as head of state in a historically apolitical role, though he has repeatedly called for a pause on Netanyahu’s effort to weaken Israel’s judiciary — which Biden has also criticized.
Omar also criticized the judicial overhaul effort, as well as the Netanyahu government’s strong opposition to Palestinian statehood, among other issues. She acknowledged that Herzog does not hold executive power but said that he would nonetheless be acting as an “ambassador” for the Israeli government. She wrote that she also opposed a recent address to Congress by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi because of opposition to his policies.
Omar is not the first U.S. lawmaker to sit out an address by an Israeli leader. When Netanyahu controversially addressed Congress in 2015 to rally opposition to then-President Barack Obama’s nuclear agreement with Iran, eight senators and 50 members of Congress, all Democrats or allied with them, did not attend.