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House Democrats weigh action against US and Israel ambassadors over banned visit

Michael Wilner, McClatchy Washington Bureau on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Senior Democratic members of Congress are considering action against top emissaries of the Israeli government and the Trump administration for their roles in Israel's decision to bar two House members from entering the country.

About a dozen lawmakers, including senior Jewish members, began discussions on Friday morning over ways to communicate a "deep lack of confidence and trust" in Israel's ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, according to two sources familiar with the discussions.

The group is weighing issuing a statement of no confidence in Dermer and opening an inspector general investigation into Friedman's conduct, the sources said.

Israel banned Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from a planned visit to Israel and the West Bank this weekend, provoking outrage among Democrats and some Republicans, including some who have harshly criticized the two lawmakers on policy grounds.

"We are reviewing all of our options," a senior congressional source told McClatchy. "With Dermer, the issue is that there already was a severe lack of trust. But now there is a severe lack of confidence. It is completely unclear that he represents his government given he has made promises that he has not kept and wasn't clear if he ever had any chance of keeping."

The Democratic lawmakers include Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel of New York and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey of New York. Two congressional sources said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland was also part of the talks, but his spokeswoman Katie Grant said he is not involved.

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In a statement, Hoyer referred to Israel's decision on Tlaib and Omar as "deeply disappointing," "disrespectful," "unacceptable" and a "self-inflicted wound" on the U.S.-Israel alliance.

Dermer had assured Hoyer in recent weeks that, "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."

The Israeli government reversed course this week under pressure from President Donald Trump, who is campaigning to portray the freshman congresswomen's policies as the future of the Democratic Party.

Trump tweeted: "It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit" and that "They are a disgrace!"

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