Israel Bars Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib From Entering Country Over BDS Support

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), two of Israel’s sharpest critics in Congress, have been barred from entering the country ahead of their proposed visit to the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli officials said Thursday.

“The decision has been made [and] the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Reshet Radio, Reuters reported.

Israel decided to ban the freshman lawmakers in response to their support for the pro-Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

BDS seeks to put economic pressure on Israel to recognize the movement’s demands, which include equal rights for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and the country’s withdrawal from the occupied territories.

Under Israeli law, supporters of the movement can be denied entry to the country. The decision to bar the congresswomen comes after Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, said last month that Omar and Tlaib would be allowed to visit.

“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,” he said.

President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that it would show “great weakness” if Israel allowed Omar and Tlaib to visit, calling the congresswomen “a disgrace.”

Omar and Tlaib condemned Netanyahu’s decision in separate statements, with the Minnesota lawmaker calling it Israel’s version of Trump’s Muslim ban.

“Denying entry into Israel not only limits our ability to learn from Israelis, but to enter the Palestinian territories,” she said in a statement. “Sadly, this is not a surprise given the public positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the decision to block their visit in a Facebook post, saying no other country “respects America and the American Congress more than the State of Israel.”

“A week ago, Israel warmly welcomed some 70 Democratic and Republican members of Congress, who expressed broad bipartisan support for Israel, which was also demonstrated a month ago in a resounding bipartisan vote against BDS in Congress,” he wrote. “However, the itinerary of the two Congresswomen reveals that the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it.”

Last year, Omar and Tlaib became the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Tlaib, an American of Palestinian heritage, has family in the West Bank.

Netanyahu in his statement Thursday said Israel’s minister of the interior would “consider” a humanitarian request from Tlaib to visit her relatives if she “pledges not to act to promote boycotts against Israel during her visit.”

Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan (left) and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota (right) were banned from visiting Israel, the country's prime minister announced Thursday. (Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan (left) and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota (right) were banned from visiting Israel, the country's prime minister announced Thursday. (Photo: ASSOCIATED PRESS)

The two congresswomen have been criticized roundly by Republicans, as well as some members of their own party, for speaking out against America’s relationship with Israel. Some Republicans, including Trump, have accused them of being anti-Semitic, though Omar and Tlaib have made clear they take issue with the Israeli government ― not with Jewish people.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Netanyahu’s decision was “deeply disappointing” and called on him to reverse it.

“Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel,” she said in a statement. “The president’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC broke with Trump to condemn Netanyahu’s decision.

Omar and Tlaib have not formally announced a date for their proposed trip. It could begin as early as this weekend, Reuters reported, citing sources familiar with the planned visit.

This story has been updated with statements from Netanyahu, Omar, Tlaib and Pelosi.

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