Israel’s deputy foreign minister confirmed on Aug. 15 that Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) will not be allowed to enter the country.
“We won’t allow those who deny our right to exist in this world to enter Israel. In principle this is a very justified decision,” Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan.
The statement came shortly after a Washington Post report claimed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was weighing banning the two Muslim congresswomen, both supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.
Under Israeli law, BDS supporters can be prevented from entering the Jewish state.
Tlaib and Omar are outspoken critics of Israel, and both at times have been criticized for relying on anti-Semitic tropes in their criticisms. They were scheduled to visit the Jewish state on Sunday, Aug. 18.
On their trip, the congresswomen planned to visit the Temple Mount, one of the holiest and most sensitive sites in Jerusalem, and they reportedly refused to be escorted by Israeli security while touring the site. The lawmakers also planned to meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and representatives of human rights organizations in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron.
In addition, Tlaib planned to stay two extra days in Israel to visit her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta.
Shortly after the Post report, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that Israel “would show great weakness” if it let in the two congresswomen.
“They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” he wrote. “Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”
Israel’s envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, said last month that the country would not deny entry to any member of Congress.
The president has repeatedly attacked Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, and Omar, who was born in Somalia, at times invoking rhetoric widely described as racist.
Congressional leaders of both parties appeared to dismiss the report, even arguing that it would be a good thing for the two congresswomen to visit the country if they kept an open mind.
On Aug. 13, Nir Barkat, former mayor of Jerusalem, had said he would welcome Tlaib and Omar during their visit.
“If I would be convinced that they came to listen and learn in how this country works, how Jerusalem works, how our political system works, I would consider it,” he told Israeli news channel i24NEWS. ” Convincing people that [Israel’s] path is the right path is the high road I think we should take.”
In a statement Thursday, Omar called Israel’s decision “an affront” and compared it to Trump’s controversial Muslim ban.
“Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” she said, referring to the president’s executive orders to restrict entry to citizens of certain predominantly Muslim countries.
“The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such 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,” Omar said.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) came to Omar and Tlaib’s defense.
“MoC [Members of Congress] are frequently asked to visit Israel to ‘see things for ourselves.’ But Netanyahu choosing to ban the only 2 Muslim women in Congress from entering tells the US that only *some* Americans are welcome to Israel, not all,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a tweet.
Pressley slammed the ban as “bigoted, short sighted and cruel” in a tweet.
Josefin Dolsten writes for the JTA international news agency and wire service.