Reps. Omar And Tlaib Barred From Visiting Israel After Trump Supports A Ban

Aug 15, 2019
Originally published on August 15, 2019 12:09 pm

Updated at 2:10 p.m. ET

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has banned two Democratic U.S. congresswomen from visiting the country and the Palestinian territories this weekend, according to a government official.

Israeli radio reported that in an interview, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the country would bar entry to "those who reject our right to exist in the world."

The move, which marks a reversal for Netanyahu and his government, comes after President Trump publicly urged the Israeli leader on Twitter to block Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., saying it would be showing "weakness" if they were allowed to visit.

"It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. 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!" Trump tweeted.

The two representatives have been vocal critics of the Israeli government and Trump's unwavering support of Netanyahu. They also voted against a nonbinding resolution condemning a Palestinian-led movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions in Israel, which they have repeatedly defended.

Tlaib has accused Israel of "racist policies."

Israeli law bars visits by people who support the global boycott movement against Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians. Israel says the boycott challenges the country's legitimacy.

But as recently as last month, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said Tlaib and Omar would be allowed to visit Israel "out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America."

In a statement Thursday, Netanyahu said they "planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel's legitimacy."

MIFTAH, the group that helped organize the lawmakers' trip, called the ban "a clear case of discrimination and hostility based on political views and ethnic background, deserving of moral indignation and unequivocal condemnation in Palestine and the United States."

Officials said they had worked hard to organize a well-rounded visit for the congresswomen, as well as Rep. Stacey Plakett, D-Virgin Islands, "in order to facilitate their engagement with Palestinian civil society and to provide them with an opportunity to see the reality of occupation for themselves."

Omar tweeted Thursday afternoon that "Trump's Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress."

Trump has singled out the representatives in the past as part of his accusation that Democrats are anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. The president ignited a massive controversy last month after he lashed out Tlaib and Omar, as well as freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, tweeting that they should "go back" to where they came from and that he doesn't believe they are "capable" of loving the country.

Several pro-Israel groups promptly criticized Israel's decision, including J Street. President Jeremy Ben-Ami called it "dangerous, unacceptable and wrong."

"As sitting members of Congress representing hundreds of thousands of Americans in their districts, Reps. Omar and Tlaib have the same right as every one of their colleagues to visit Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory," Ben-Ami said in a statement.

Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said in a statement she was "deeply saddened by the news" and "prays that the Government of Israel will reverse" its denial.

"Israel's denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel," Pelosi wrote. "The President's statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement that Israel's decision "is outrageous, regardless of the itinerary or their views." He said discussions are underway that could allow Tlaib to visit relatives in the West Bank, which Israel says it would consider if she reapplied for a personal visit.

: 8/15/19

A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's last name as Ocasio-Cortz and Ayanna Pressley's last name as Pressely.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.