The Israeli government on Thursday barred two Muslim U.S. congresswoman from entering the country, minutes after President Donald Trump said any decision to allow them entry “would show great weakness.”
Freshman Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) had planned to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah on Sunday, generating controversy due to their vocal support of Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. In an apparent reversal of Israel’s position to admit all U.S. lawmakers who seek to visit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the country would bar Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, because they seek to “harm” the state of Israel.
“There is no country in the world that respects the U.S. and the American Congress more than Israel,” Netanyahu said. “However, the itinerary showed that the congresswomen’s sole intention was to harm Israel.”
The shocking decision came shortly after Trump claimed on Twitter that the two women “hate Israel and all Jewish people.”
“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Trump tweeted. “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 pair have been frequent targets of Trump, who last month basked in a North Carolina campaign rally crowd’s chants of “Send her back!” in reference to Omar. Omar was born in Somalia and came to the U.S. as a child and is a naturalized citizen; she has been assailed for social-media posts that have targeted Israeli lobbyists in the U.S. and Netanyahu government policies. Tlaib is a Michigan native of Palestianian ancestry. Together, they are one-half of a female freshman Democratic pack that has come to be known as The Squad.
The prime minister said despite Israel’s policy, he became aware of Tlaib and Omar’s decision to be “leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against against Israel in the U.S. Congress” and argued the pair’s decision to name their visit destination as “Palestine” rather than “Israel” prompted his administration to bar their trip.
Omar and Tlaib have previously voiced their support for the boycott, divest and sanctions movement. Under Israeli law, supporters of the movement can be denied entry to Israel.
“A week ago, Israel welcomed some 70 Democratic and Republican congressmen who expressed broad bipartisan support in Israel, expressed just a month ago in overwhelming opposition to the congressional vote against the BDS,” he said. “By contrast, the two-member congressional visitation plan shows that their intent is to hurt Israel and increase its unrest against it.”
Netanyahu later added that Tlaib could be allowed to travel to the West Bank to visit her grandmother, but only if she submitted a request on humanitarian grounds to visit there.
David M. Friedman, the U.S. Ambassador to Israel, said in a statement Thursday that he supports Israel’s decision to deny entry to the two women, saying the country “has every right to protect its borders in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons.”
“Initially, Israel had indicated that it would accept the Tlaib/Omar Delegation, and use their visit as an opportunity to engage with and educate the delegation members with regard to Israel’s vibrant and robust democracy, its religious tolerance and its ethnic diversity,” Friedman said. “Unfortunately, the itinerary of the Tlaib/Omar Delegation leaves no room for that opportunity.”
The ambassador also added that he believes the BDS movement “is no less than economic warfare designed to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish State.”
“This trip, pure and simple, is nothing more than an effort to fuel the BDS engine that Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar so vigorously supportive,” he added.
Omar hit back on Thursday, calling Netanyahu's decision an “affront” fueled by Trump, equating the move to the president’s ban on travel from eight Muslim-majority countries.
“Denying entry into Israel not only limits our ability to learn from Israelis, but also 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.”
The Democratic lawmaker added that as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, it is her job to “conduct oversight of foreign aid from the United States of American and to legislate on human rights around the world.”
“The irony of the only democracy in the Middle East making a decision is that it is both an insult to 'democratic values' and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation,” she said.
Tlaib also responded to the news on Twitter. “This woman right here is my sity. She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her,” she wrote alongside a photograph of her grandmother. “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.”
Democratic lawmakers agreed with Omar and Tlaib, slamming both country’s leaders for the decision.
“Banning Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel and Palestine is a sign of enormous disrespect to these elected leaders, to the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy,” presidential hopeful Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted. “The Israeli government should reverse this decision and allow them in.”
Democatic Rep. Tom Malinowski focused his critiques on Trump’s past racist tweets about the congresswomen of color. “First he tells Congresswoman Tlaib to ‘go back’ to ‘her’ country, and then he tells that country not to let her in,” the New Jersey lawmaker said.
Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) also attacked the Thursday decision, saying although he disagreed with the two congresswomen, especially on BDS, he believes barring the trip is a “mistake.”
“Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state,” Rubio tweeted.
And even the pro-Israel lobbying organization American Israel Public Affairs Committee spoke out against the decision, writing: “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. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”