U.S. Reps Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), Ilhan Omar (D-MN).
Erin Scott | Reuters
Israel will not permit Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., to visit the country as they had planned.
The decision Thursday came shortly after President Donald Trump said Israel would be showing “great weakness” if it allowed the two outspoken progressive lawmakers to visit.
“They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” Trump said.
“They are a disgrace!”
Both Omar and Tlaib are Muslims who have been critical of the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. But Israel’s Washington ambassador, Ron Dermer, had previously said that Omar and Tlaib would not be denied entry.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed in a statement Thursday morning that Omar and Tlaib would be denied entry to Israel.
“As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception: Israel’s law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel, as is the case with other democracies that prevent the entry of people whose perception harms the country,” Netanyahu said.
“Congressmen Talib and Omar are leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the U.S. Congress,” Netanyahu said.
The Israeli leader, who has forged an extremely close and supportive relationship with Trump, claimed that Omar and Tlaib “were planning a campaign whose sole purpose was to strengthen the boycott and negate Israel’s legitimacy.” He cited as evidence the fact that they had referred to Israel as “Palestine” and have not attempted to meet with Israeli officials, either in the government or the opposition.
President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shake hands after Trump’s address at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017.
Ronen Zvulun | Reuters
Israeli media reported earlier Thursday that the two were barred because of their “suspected provocations” and the promotion of the so-called Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions, or BDS, movement.
BDS is a Palestinian-led movement to boycott and isolate Israel, and it has been cast off as anti-Semitic even by prominent Democrats such as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
But Israel’s move to keep Omar and Tlaib outside the country still drew criticism.
“It is utterly egregious for the Israeli government to deny entry to two sitting members of the United States Congress,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., in a statement.
“The close relationship enjoyed by the United States and Israel should extend to all its government representatives, regardless of their views on specific issues or policies. This decision undermines the ability for our two allied countries to have the frank, open and, at times, difficult discussions that we must have in order to ensure Israel remains a secure and democratic nation,” Nadler said.
Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., said “Netanyahu is stoking division and punishing dissent just like the occupant of the White House.”
Pressley, Omar, Tlaib and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., comprise the group of progressive freshman House Democrats known by some as “The Squad.”
“We should reevaluate our relationships with any country who seeks to ban Americans and threatens the safety of anyone, including government officials,” Pressley said.
Spokespersons for Omar and Tlaib did not immediately respond to CNBC’s requests for comment.
Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, had reportedly told local media Thursday morning that the country would deny Omar and Tlaib entry.
She later said on Twitter that barring BDS-supporting members of Congress “is a just, moral and important decision,” according to a Google translation of her tweet.
This is breaking news. Please check back for updates.