Israel has blocked two U.S. Democratic congresswomen from entering the country ahead of a scheduled visit next week, an action that came hours after President Donald Trump fired off a series of tweets saying Israel would be “weak” to allow the two women to visit.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), both of whom have been outwardly critical of the Jewish state, are barred from attending a private trip organized by a Palestinian-led nonprofit.
Israeli Interior Minister Arye Deri already decided against letting the two congresswomen in, although the final decision was Netanyahu’s. Diplomats fear the decision will further erode already strained relations between U.S. Democrats and Israel.
“Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress,” Netanyahu said in prepared remarks. He said their itinerary “revealed that they planned a visit, whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.” The two congresswoman were slated to visit the Palestinian West Bank during their trip.
The move comes just days after President Donald Trump reportedly encouraged Israel to enforce its 2017 law barring anyone who has supported a boycott of the Jewish state. Early Thursday, the president tweeted that he would fully support the decision to leave Omar and Tlaib out to dry.
“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” he wrote. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”
The freshman Democrats, two of the first Muslim women to serve in Congress and whom Trump recently told to “go back!” to their countries, have been outspoken critics of U.S. support for Israel in the face of that nation’s treatment of the Palestinians. Omar, 37, in particular faced allegations of anti-Semitism earlier this year after her “all about the benjamins” comment criticizing the power and financial clout of the pro-Israel lobby. She later argued that she shouldn’t have to “pledge allegiance” or support to Israel in order to serve in Congress.
Omar eventually apologized for her remarks, which House Democrats passed a formal resolution to condemn.
Netanyahu’s main issue with the Democratic representatives seemingly stems from their support for the movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) of Israel, which seeks international support for economic pressure on the Jewish state over its occupation of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank. Last week, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in support of a resolution opposing to the BDS movement, specifically its efforts to “target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.”
Just 17 lawmakers voted against the anti-BDS resolution —- Omar and Tlaib among them. The congresswomen were initially cleared for their visit last month by Nentanyahu, but their recent vote seems to have created bad blood.
Dan Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel under Barack Obama, criticized the decision to block Omar and Tlaib, arguing that it would only hurt U.S.-Israel relations while boosting the BDS movement.
“Original Israeli decision to allow Tlaib/Omar visit was wise,” Shapiro wrote. “Reversal makes little sense. I disagree with their stands on Israel, have criticised them. But zero harm in letting them come learn, see (even if they had an agenda). Reversal harms Israel’s standing in US, boosts BDS.”