(CNSNews.com) – If Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu does not want to allow Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) to visit, “maybe he can respectfully decline the billions of dollars” that the U.S. gives to Israel, 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Thursday night.
In an MSNBC appearance, the independent senator from Vermont was asked for his reaction to Israel’s decision to bar Tlaib and Omar from visiting – based on their vocal support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and an itinerary which Netanyahu said showed that the “sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”
MSNBC host Ali Velshi also asked Sanders his view on what Velshi described as “President Trump asking the president [sic] of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, to do this, and Netanyahu obliging.”
Sanders said he was not surprised that Trump encouraged Israel not to allow Tlaib and Omar to visit, and repeated his now customary labeling of the president as a “racist,” a “xenophobe,” and a “religious bigot.”
“But the idea that a member of the United States Congress cannot visit a nation which, by the way, we support to the tune of billions and billions of dollars, is an outrage,” he continued.
“And if Israel doesn’t want members of the United States Congress to visit their country, to get a first-hand look at what’s going on – and I’ve been there many, many times – but if he doesn’t want members to visit, maybe he can respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we supp—that we give to Israel.”
Sanders’ comments won praise from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a close ally of Tlaib and Omar who earlier in the day pledged on Twitter not to schedule “any visits to Israel until all members of Congress are allowed.”
Ocasio-Cortez retweeted a clip of Sanders’ MSNBC remarks, and commented, “One thing that is completely undeniable about Bernie Sanders is the enormous political courage he consistently wields on behalf of others.”
“This statement is a big deal,” she continued. “He’s not just standing up for two members – he’s standing for the integrity of the entire US Congress.”
Ten minutes later – possibly worried that her words may be interpreted as an endorsement of Sanders’ presidential run – Ocasio-Cortez tweeted again, “Folks may want to read extra deep into this, but I say this simply to acknowledge the courage it takes to make a statement like this.”
She then name-checked two other 2020 Democratic presidential aspirants, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and former HUD Secretary Julian Castro.
“From Warren to Castro to Bernie & others, we are lucky to have the leadership bench we have right now. We should praise all their great moments!”
(Twitter has been agog for months about who Ocasio-Cortez will endorse in the 2020 contest. In 2016 she backed fellow democratic socialist Sanders and worked as an organizer for his presidential campaign.)
Israel is one of America’s top military allies, and arguably its closest political ally at the U.N. and other international forums.
Israel is the number one recipient of U.S. military aid. (It has not received U.S. economic aid since fiscal year 2007.)
For FY 2020, the Trump administration has requested $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Israel, and $500 million in missile defense aid. That’s in keeping with a 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the Obama administration in 2016. It pledged $38 billion in military aid ($33 billion in FMF grants and $5 billion in missile defense appropriations) over the period FY 2019 to FY 2028.
Much of the funding returns to the U.S. market: Under U.S. law, Israel has been obliged to spend at least 73.7 percent of the FMF assistance in the United States.
It could use up to the remaining 26.3 percent on “off shore procurement” (OSP), meaning it could buy goods from non-U.S. sources, typically Israeli companies.
But, in a bid to maximize the benefits to U.S. companies, the Obama MOU negotiated in 2016 phases out the OSP portion of the funding. The phase-out began in FY 2019 and runs through FY 2028, when 100 percent of the FMF funding to Israel will be spent on U.S.-origin equipment.