Israel says it will bar pair of U.S. congresswomen from entering country

Israel has decided to block a visit by U.S. Democratic members of Congress Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said on Thursday.

“The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Hotovely told Israel’s Reshet Radio.

Hotovely’s comments came nearly simultaneously as U.S. President Donald Trump urged Israel to bar them entry on Twitter, renewing his heated criticism of the first-term congresswomen.

Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and members of the Democratic party’s progressive wing, have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.

No date had been formally announced for their trip, but sources familiar with the planned visit said it could begin at the weekend.

Israel’s Channel 12 television had earlier said a decision to ban their entry had been made and that it would be announced after a review by government legal experts. 

Trump, while critical of nearly all Democrats, has reserved particular scorn for Omar, Tlaib and two other Democratic congresswomen of colour, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York.

White House denied it was pressuring Israel

Under Israeli law, backers of the BDS movement can be denied entry to Israel. But Israel’s ambassador in the United States, Ron Dermer, said last month Tlaib and Omar would be let in, out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

An Israeli official said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior members of his cabinet held consultations on Wednesday on a “final decision” about the visit.

Denying entry to elected U.S. officials could further strain relations between Netanyahu, who has highlighted his close ties with Trump in his current re-election campaign, and the Democratic leadership in Congress.

Watch: Trump-targeted congresswomen hold news conference, July 15

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Political commentators said a reversal of Israel’s original intention to approve the legislators’ entry likely stemmed from a desire to mirror Trump’s hard line against them.

The Axios news site reported on Saturday that Trump had told advisers that he thinks Netanyahu should use the anti-boycott law to bar Tlaib and Omar. It quoted the White House as saying it was fake news.

A planned tour by the two lawmakers of the holy compound in Jerusalem that houses al-Aqsa mosque, and which is revered by Jews as the site of two biblical Jewish temples, had turned into an issue of contention, according to sources familiar with preparations for the visit.

The flashpoint site is in an area of Jerusalem that Israel captured along with the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

While President Donald Trump has frequently criticized the leaders of U.S. allies, his relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been steadfast. (Susan Walsh/The Associated Press)

An official in Israel’s internal security ministry said any visit by Tlaib and Omar to the complex, revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount, would require Israeli security protection.

Violence erupted there on Sunday between Israeli police and Palestinians amid tensions over visits by Jewish pilgrims on a day when the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha and the Jewish fast day of Tisha B’Av overlapped.

Members of Congress pan the decision

Ilhan Omar, who immigrated to the United States from Somalia as a child, represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.

In February, Omar, 37, apologized after Democratic leaders condemned remarks she made about the pro-Israel lobby in the United States as using anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Tlaib, 43, who was born in the United States, draws her roots to the Palestinian village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa in the West Bank. Her grandmother and extended family live in the village.

Democratic congressman Dean Phillips of Minnesota said the decision would set a “damaging precedent.”

Justin Amash — the congressman who entered this session of Congress as a Republican but declared himself an independent after earning umbrage from his colleagues for criticizing the president — also said it would be harmful to U.S.-Israel relations to bar members of Congress.

Earlier this summer, Trump has accused the four women, including Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez, of “hating America” and has suggested that the women should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez, like Tlaib, are U.S.-born.

At a rally in North Carolina, Trump remained silent as an unknown number of his supporters chanted “Send her back!” for several seconds after the president mentioned Omar by name.

Listen: Front Burner on July 17: ‘Trump and the debate over using the term racist’

At a rally on Wednesday night, supporters of Donald Trump broke out in a chorus of “send her back!” chants, targeted toward Ilhan Omar, a Somali-born congresswoman from Minnesota. The chant came just days after the U.S. president took to Twitter, to attack four congresswomen of colour, suggesting they “go back and help fix the broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” All of this has set off a debate in the media, on how to cover Trump and racism. On today’s Front Burner, we talk to Adam Serwer, staff writer with The Atlantic, about journalistic objectivity, Trump, the media and the term “racist.” 22:20