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.
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Reshet Radio: “The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter.”
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!”
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Several reports from the U.S. and Israel indicated the Israeli government was considering to block the two congresswomen from entering Israel on the grounds that they had backed the “boycott, sanctions and divestment” (BDS) movement against Israel. Israeli law allows the interior ministry to block BDS supporters from entering.
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Rep. Rashida Tlaib listens as acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan testifies before the House Oversight and Reform Committee on July 18, 2019 in Washington, DC.
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 partner 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.
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This morning, a senior Israeli official told ABC News in Jerusalem today 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.”
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U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar speaks at a press conference during the introduction of the Zero Waste Act in Congress at the Capitol in Washington, DC.
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White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement, “the Israeli government can do what it wants,” and when asked about the president’s tweet and whether or not Trump encouraged Netanyahu to bar the congresswomen’s entry, replied, “No.”
The decision was quickly met by backlash from Democrats on Capitol Hill.
“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., tweeted. “I urge Israel’s government to allow @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib entry.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition, however, came out in support, citing recent Jewish 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.”