Occupied Jerusalem: Israel will bar the entry of US Democratic Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday, shortly after US President Donald Trump called on Israel not to let them in.
The pair, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, are members of the Democratic party’s progressive wing and sharp critics of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.
Israel had initially chosen to allow the visit. But on Wednesday, Netanyahu held consultations with cabinet members and advisers revisiting the decision. A source who took part in the consultation told Reuters that Israel backtracked because of pressure from Trump.
“In a discussion held two weeks ago all the officials were in favour of letting them in but after Trump’s pressure they reversed the decision,” the source said.
Tlaib and Omar have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. Under Israeli law, BDS backers can be denied entry to Israel.
Trump has vented in recent months against Tlaib, Omar and two other Democratic congresswomen of colour, accusing them of hostility to Israel in what has widely been seen as a drumming up of Republican votes for his 2020 reelection bid.
In a tweet on Thursday, he urged Israel not to allow the visit, saying “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit ... They are a disgrace!”
No date had been formally announced for the congresswomen’s trip, but sources familiar with the planned visit said it could begin at the weekend. They had planned to tour occupied east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Denying entry to elected US officials further strained relations between Netanyahu and the Democratic leadership in Congress.
“Israel doesn’t advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering US ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views. This would be a shameful, unprecedented move,” Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren, a US senator, said on Twitter.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior Palestinian official with the PLO and founder of Miftah said: “This ban is 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 US.”