Israel denies entry to two congresswomen after Trump’s call to block them
JERUSALEM — Israel on Thursday barred two American Democratic congresswomen who had planned to visit the Israeli-occupied West Bank, hours after President Trump had urged the country to block them.
Trump’s intervention was an extraordinary step to influence an allied nation and punish his political opponents at home. Israel’s decision to bar the two congresswomen, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, was widely criticized, including by prominent Israel supporters.
The two lawmakers, both freshmen, are the first Muslim women elected to Congress. Both are outspoken adversaries of Trump and have been vocal in their support of the Palestinians and the boycott-Israel movement.
The president has targeted them in speeches and Twitter postings that his critics have called racist and xenophobic.
It was reported last week that Trump was pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to deny entrance to the two women, and Thursday morning he left little doubt. While Israeli officials were still deliberating the matter, he said in a Twitter post that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit.”
He added: “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!”
Later Thursday, Israel’s Interior Ministry announced that Netanyahu had decided to deny entry to the two American lawmakers, on grounds of their “boycott activities against Israel” and in accordance with the country’s anti-boycott law.
“No country in the world respects America and the American Congress more than the state of Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement after the decision had been announced. “As a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for, and work to impose, boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prevent the entry of people believed to be damaging to the country.”
Welcoming the decision, Trump said on Twitter: “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!”
His ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, said in a statement that the boycott movement was “no less than economic warfare” and that Israel had “every right to protect its borders” against activists who support it.
In a statement, Omar called the actions by Trump and Netanyahu “an affront” that had limited the ability of members of Congress to learn from both Israelis and Palestinians.
“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,” she said.
“The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision,” she said, “is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation.”
Trump’s intervention also placed him at odds with the Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress and even some pro-Israel advocacy groups in the United States.
Senator Chuck Schumer, the minority leader, said denying the representatives entry was “a sign of weakness, not strength.”
“No democratic society should fear an open debate,” he tweeted. “Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”
Just a few days earlier, the House minority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, told reporters in Jerusalem while leading a delegation of 31 Republican lawmakers: “I think all should come.” Speaking at a news conference with McCarthy, Representative Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader who was heading a delegation to Israel of 41 Democratic representatives, agreed.
Many Israelis and Jewish leaders have also expressed discomfort with the idea that American officials could be denied entry because of their beliefs or criticism of Israel. Just last month, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, said that Israel would not deny entry to any US representatives.
David Harris, chief executive officer of the American Jewish Committee, a prominent pro-Israel organization, said it disagreed with Netanyahu’s decision even though the group strongly opposes the views expressed by the two congresswomen.
Omar had been scheduled to arrive Sunday for a tour of the West Bank, partly under the auspices of an organization headed by a longtime Palestinian lawmaker, Hanan Ashrawi, that was expected to highlight Palestinian grievances over the Israeli occupation.
The women had been planning to visit the West Bank cities of Hebron, Ramallah, and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, according to Ashrawi, including a visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, a hotly contested and volatile holy site. Most of the delegation was expected to depart Aug. 22, but Tlaib had been planning to stay to visit relatives in the West Bank.
Tlaib, of Palestinian descent, has spoken often of her grandmother, who lives on the West Bank, while Omar, a Somali refugee, is the first woman to wear a hijab on the House floor.
Although they were hailed as symbols of diversity when they arrived in Washington, they quickly became embroiled in controversy over their statements on Israel and on supporters of the Jewish state. Omar apologized after she said support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins, baby” — a reference to $100 bills.
Omar and Tlaib’s public support for the boycott movement had already drawn criticism from the White House. In remarks last month that were widely condemned as racist, Trump said that four congresswomen of color — Omar and Tlaib, as well as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts — should “go back” to the countries they came from.