In the latest episode of his spat with four congresswomen of colour, Mr Trump said on Twitter that Israel would “show great weakness” if it allowed Muslim congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to visit as part of a private fact-finding visit later this month. The two other members of the so-called “Squad“ the president has attacked – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley – were not due to visit.
The president, who has repeatedly claimed, without providing evidence, that the two women are antisemitic, added: “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!”
After Israel took the apparently unprecedented step of announcing it was barring the two Democrats, they responded by calling the move an affront to Democratic values.
“It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the US government,” Ms Omar said in a statement.
“Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected members of Congress.”
She added: “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.”
Ms Tlaib and Ms Omar, who have both been critical of Israel’s government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, were to participate in a private trip organised by a Palestinian-led NGO to visit Israel and the West Bank, where Ms Tlaib has family.
Mr Netanyahu, citing the women’s support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, announced he would be barring the congresswomen from entering the country.
“The plan of the two Congresswomen is only to damage Israel and to foment against Israel,” Mr Netanyahu said in a statement following the decision.
The move was condemned by a number of Democrats, including House speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has long had strong ties with Israel.
Several Republican politicians opposed the decision, notably Florida senator Marco Rubio, who has been a vocal critic of the two congresswomen. He tweeted: “I disagree 100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel & am the author of the #AntiBDS bill we passed in the Senate. But denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake. Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.“
It was also criticised by the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, which said in a statement: “We disagree with [congresswomen] Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Ms 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.”
Dylan J. Williams, senior vice president at J Street, a Jewish-American advocacy group, said: “This is unprecedented in the history of US-Israel relations.
“The fact that dozens of US lawmakers and nearly every Jewish-American group in the country are publicly opposing Trump and Netanyahu on this shows just how severe a crisis the two men have triggered. It’s a move that leaves no doubt about their shared anti-democratic impulses and reckless disregard for preserving the bilateral relationship beyond their immediate personal political horizons.“
On Twitter, Ms Tlaib, the first Palestinian American elected to Congress, responded by posting a photograph of her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank.
“She deserves to live in peace and with human dignity. I am who I am because of her,” she wrote.
“The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a US congresswoman, is a sign of weakness because the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”
Additional reporting by Negar Mortazavi in Washington DC