Israel announced it plans to block two American congresswomen from entering the country after President Donald Trump pressured the Jewish state to bar Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib from visiting.
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Thursday that the congresswomen’s itinerary showed “their intent is to hurt Israel” and that he backed a decision by Israel’s interior minister to block their entry.
Netanyahu joined several Israeli ministers in deciding to bar them based on an Israeli law that allows authorities to deny entry to people who have backed the “boycott, sanctions and divestment” (BDS) movement against Israel, the country’s foreign ministry said in a statement. “The decision was made after [Israel’s Interior] Minister [Aryeh] Deri realized boycott activities were planned against Israel and that they should be prevented from entering Israel, in accordance with the provisions of the Israeli Entry Law,” the ministry said.
On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said 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.”
ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו:
“אין מדינה בעולם שמכבדת את ארה”ב ואת הקונגרס האמריקני יותר ממדינת ישראל.
כדמוקרטיה תוססת וחופשית, ישראל פתוחה לכל מבקר ולכל ביקורת, עם יוצא מן הכלל אחד: החוק בישראל אוסר על כניסת אנשים הקוראים והפועלים להטלת חרם על ישראל
— ראש ממשלת ישראל (@IsraeliPM_heb) August 15, 2019
Earlier, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely had told Israel’s Reshet Radio: “The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter.”
Tlaib and Omar, the first Muslim women elected to Congress, have drawn the ire of the president for their positions on Israel and their criticism of Trump and his administration’s policies. They planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank over the weekend as guests of Miftah, a nonprofit Palestinian group that seeks a “sovereign, independent, democratic, tolerant and inclusive Palestinian state, which grants Palestinians their basic rights, preserves their dignity, and enjoys international recognition and respect.” The two congresswomen have supported the BDS movement.
In response to the decision, Trump tweeted that the two congresswomen are the face of the Democratic Party and that they hate Israel.
Thursday morning, Trump tweeted, “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. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”
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. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019
Several reports from the U.S. and Israel indicated the Israeli government was considering whether to block the two congresswomen from entering Israel on the grounds that they had backed the BDS movement.
Last month, Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, said Israel would allow any member of Congress to enter. And as recently as Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 13 and Axios reported that Israeli officials were preparing for their visit to start this Friday. Reports said they would possibly visit the Temple Mount site revered by both Jews and Muslims — and officials at a very high level were trying to figure out how to mitigate and limit the impact of their trip.
The decision comes as Netanyahu faces an election in one month, and hopes to retain his right leaning base.
In a statement, Omar called the move “an affront.”
“It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government. Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress. Denying entry into Israel not only limits our ability to learn from Israelis, but also to enter the Palestinian territories,” Omar stated. “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.”
Thursday morning, a senior Israeli official told ABC News in Jerusalem that “there is a possibility that Israel will not allow the visit in its current proposed format,” suggesting that the women might not be barred if their itinerary changed.
“Yesterday, the PM, the Minister of Interior, the Foreign Minister, the Minister of Internal Security, the Head of the National Security Council and the Attorney General held consultations regarding the final decision to be taken on this issue,” an official said. “There is a possibility that Israel will not allow the visit in its current proposed format. Professional teams and legal counsel in various government ministries are continuing to examine the decision. According to Israeli law, the authority lies with the Minister of the Interior.”
The Washington Post quoted an unnamed official saying that if Tlaib, who is an American of Palestinian heritage, were to make a special humanitarian request to visit her family in the West Bank, which Israel occupies, then “it would be considered favorably.”
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement, “the Israeli government can do what it wants,” and when she was asked about the president’s tweet and whether or not Trump encouraged Netanyahu to bar the congresswomen’s entry, she replied, “No.”
The decision was quickly met with backlash from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said the decision to deny entry to Reps. Omar and Tlaib is a “sign of weakness” from Israel and “beneath the dignity” of the country.
Trump’s statements, she added, are “beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ambassador Dermer on Wednesday to try to convince the Israeli government to allow Tlaib and Omar entry, according to an aide. Hoyer recently returned from an annual trip to Israel along with dozens of Congressional Democrats. In a statement, he called the decision “outrageous.”
“The decision of the Israeli government to deny entry to Israel by two Members of Congress is outrageous, regardless of their itinerary or their views,” Hoyer said. “This action is contrary to the statement and assurances to me by Israel’s ambassador to the United States 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.’ That representation was not true.”
“Israel doesn’t advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering US ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views. This would be a shameful, unprecedented move,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is running for president, tweeted. “I urge Israel’s government to allow @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib entry.”
Israel doesn’t advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering US ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views. This would be a shameful, unprecedented move. I urge Israel’s government to allow @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib entry.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) August 15, 2019
Her fellow 2020 candidate, Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., took aim at the president, tweeting: “Donald Trump says that two sitting U.S. Congresswomen hate all Jews but he says that literal Nazis can be very fine people. You tell me who’s the disgrace.”
Donald Trump says that two sitting U.S. Congresswomen hate all Jews but he says that literal Nazis can be very fine people.
You tell me who’s the disgrace. https://t.co/MLhMWXwmXv
— Seth Moulton (@sethmoulton) August 15, 2019
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, usually staunchly in favor of Israeli government decisions, criticized Israel’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 committee said in a statement. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
But the Republican Jewish Coalition, however, came out in support of the decision, citing Israeli law. “Israel’s decision to deny entry to Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, while not easy or taken lightly, is the right decision,” Executive Director Matt Brooks said in a statement. “It would be unfair to expect Israel to treat them differently than anyone else applying to visit the country.”
The group sponsoring the congresswomen’s trip, Miftah, blasted Israel’s decision, calling it “an affront to the American people and their representatives.”
“It is an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world,” Miftah said in a statement. “This ban is a clear case of discrimination and hostility based on political views and ethnic background, deserving of moral indignation and unequivocal condemnation in Palestine and the United States.”
ABC News’ Ben Siegel and John Parkinson contributed to this report.