Israel’s government decided to bar two Democratic congresswomen from entering the country on Thursday, in an unprecedented move that is likely to reverberate through the halls of the US Congress.
Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin and has family in the West Bank, and Ilhan Omar were expected to arrive at the weekend for a visit to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.
The left-leaning Muslim congresswomen are outspoken critics of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians and support the so-called BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. They are also sharp critics of US President Donald Trump, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told CNN on Thursday of Israel’s decision to ban Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from entering the country. The announcement came shortly after Trump said Israel would be showing “great weakness” by allowing them to enter the country.
“The plan of the two Congresswomen is only to damage Israel and to foment against Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement following the decision.
The intervention by Trump into Israel’s decision-making was extraordinary enough. But the move by Netanyahu’s government lent the longstanding US-Israel alliance a new partisan tinge and opened the door for fresh criticism.
Netanyahu said in a statement:
“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 act to boycott Israel, as is the case with other democracies that prevent the entry of people whom they see as harming the country.”
In 2017, Israel passed a law banning entry of activists including Jewish supporters of the BDS movement, arguing it is anti-Semitic and a threat to the country’s existence. Last month, Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said Israel would allow the lawmakers to enter “out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
Supporters of BDS argue it is a non-violent movement similar to the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa in response to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and illegal settlement building.
The decision to ban the congresswomen is likely to deepen rifts among Democrats over Israel, which has historically maintained bi-partisan support in Congress. It comes at a time when support for Israel under Netanyahu’s right-wing government is waning among Democrats, with one survey indicatingthat 56% of Democrats would support economic sanctions on Israel if it continued to expand settlements.
Tlaib responded to the ban by tweeting a photo of her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank. She wrote that barring her granddaughter from entering “is a sign of weakness” because “the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”
This woman right here is my sity. She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her. The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening. pic.twitter.com/GGcFLiH9N3
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) August 15, 2019
Trump has openly clashed with Omar, Tlaib and two other Democratic congresswomen of colour over Israel and their “leftist” policies in a bid to rally the conservative Republican base ahead of the 2020 elections.
Israel’s Channel 13 reported this week that Trump told advisers that Israel should prevent Omar and Tlaib from entering the country, a view that reportedly reached senior Israeli officials.
“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter shortly before Israel announced the lawmakers would be barred.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019
Senator Bernie Sanders, another Democratic presidential hopeful, slammed Trump’s comments as “disgusting.”
“It is disgusting that a bigot like Trump is attacking @RashidaTlaib and @IlhanMN in this way. Opposing Netanyahu’s policies is not “hating the Jewish people.” We must stand together against those who promote hatred and racism in Israel, Palestine, the U.S. and everywhere,” he wrote on Twitter.
It is disgusting that a bigot like Trump is attacking @RashidaTlaib and @IlhanMN in this way. Opposing Netanyahu’s policies is not “hating the Jewish people.” We must stand together against those who promote hatred and racism in Israel, Palestine, the U.S. and everywhere. https://t.co/Sq8FikcumK
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) August 15, 2019
Trump’s history feuding with the congresswomen
Trump has criticized the two lawmakers — who are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress — in harsh and sometimes racist terms. But his move to call for their ban in Israel reflects a new chapter in his grudge and a further erosion of presidential norms, which in the past sought to avoid instilling partisanship in foreign affairs.
In considering the ban, Israel cited the congresswomen’s support for a boycott against Israel.