The Israeli government on Thursday reversed its position on allowing Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., into the country, after President Trump urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to ban them from visiting.
Omar and Tlaib, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, are outspoken critics of Israel’s policies toward Palestinians. They were scheduled to arrive in the region on Sunday on a trip that was planned by Miftah, a nonprofit organization headed by Palestinian lawmaker Hanan Ashrawi.
It’s unclear whether the lawmakers will go ahead with their planned visit, which was to include stops in the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah as well as Jerusalem. Their offices did not immediately return requests for comment.
“There is no country in the world that respects the U.S. and the U.S. Congress more than the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception: Israel’s law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel.”
Israel’s anti-boycott law, passed in 2017, provides for excluding foreign nationals who support a boycott of the Jewish state. Ilhan and Tlaib were two of only 17 members of Congress to vote against a House resolution condemning the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) movement intended to pressure Israel over its policies toward Palestinians.
In a statement, Omar blasted Netanuyahu's decision, calling it "an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation."
It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government.
My full statement: pic.twitter.com/v00ESmehXT
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) August 15, 2019
Last month, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said the congresswomen would be allowed to visit Israel “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
But last week, Axios reported that Trump had told advisers that Netanyahu should block the women from visiting. (White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied the report. “The Israeli government can do what they want,” she said. “It’s fake news.“)
On Thursday morning, Trump tweeted that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit.”
“They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” the president added. “Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”
Speaking to reporters in Morristown, N.J., before heading to a campaign rally in New Hampshire, Trump would not say whether he spoke to Netanyahu before Israel’s decision was announced.
“But I did speak to people over there,” Trump said.
Tlaib, who was scheduled to visit her grandmother in a West Bank village on the trip, said Netanyahu’s decision to bar his critics was “a sign of weakness” because “the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”
This woman right here is my sity. She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her. 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. pic.twitter.com/GGcFLiH9N3
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) August 15, 2019
Omar and Tlaib are part of the so-called Squad of four progressive freshman U.S. congresswomen who have drawn the ire of Trump.
Trump stirred outrage with tweets that suggested Reps. Omar, Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., should “go back” to their “broken and crime infested” countries. All of the lawmakers are U.S. citizens, and three of the four were born in the United States.
Pressley tweeted her dismay with the ban shortly after it was announced.
"I’m calling this like I see it: bigoted, short sighted and cruel," she wrote. "Any leader committed to advancing democracy would welcome with open arms two democratically elected United States Congresswomen. And every single member of Congress should be calling this out."
Danny Ayalon, former Israeli ambassador to the United States, defended Israel’s decision.
“Israel, like every sovereign country, has the right to decide who can enter and who cannot enter, who must stay and who must leave,” Ayalon tweeted. “The U.S. administration recommended accordingly, and the Israeli government rightfully decided to accept that recommendation.” Ayalon also called the congresswomen “racist” and “anti-Semitic” provocateurs.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which supports Trump, released a statement disagreeing with Netanyahu's decision.
“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 statement read. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
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