Israel will deny entry to Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, US congresswomen who are Muslim and members of the progressive Democrats’ “Squad.”
Targets of Donald Trump’s ire for weeks, Tlaib of Michigan and Omar of Minnesota were the subject of an unprecedented presidential tweet today. Trump’s criticism of the congresswomen appears to have prompted Israeli authorities to reverse a prior decision to allow them in.
Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, and Omar, the first woman in Congress to wear a hijab, were not expected to meet with Israeli or Palestinian officials. They planned their meeting with Hanan Ahsrawi of the Palestine Liberation Organization and to visit the West Bank cities of Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and the contested Al Aqsa Mosque.
Both congresswomen have expressed criticism of Israeli policies and support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate Israel and Israelis globally, forcing it to withdraw from occupied territories, remove the separation barrier in the West Bank, grant full equality for Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and allow Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties in Israel.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the congresswomen’s support for the BDS movement drove the decision. “As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any visitor and to any criticism, with one exception: The law in Israel forbids the entry of people calling for and acting to placing a boycott on Israel, as is the norm in other democracies that prevent the entry of people whom they see as harming the country,” Netanyahu said.
He argued that the wording of the congresswomen’s itinerary is evidence of their support for the boycott and the desire to erode the legitimacy of the state of Israel: “…they defined the destination of their trip as ‘Palestine’ and not as ‘Israel,’ and in contrast with all other Democratic and Republican members of Congress until now, they refrained from requesting any meeting with an Israeli official, either in the government or in the opposition.”
However, as Democratic US presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter, barring Tlaib and Ilhan Omar undermines arguments that Israel is a vibrant democracy.
Some Israelis are concerned that the government’s move will only harden the resolve of the BDS movement, and over the long term, harm Israel’s relations with the US, simply to appease Trump—who will not be president forever. An unnamed Israeli diplomat told Haaretz, “[The denial] will cause actual damage to our relations with the Democrats. Everyone understands that Democrats will return to power at some point, and this will be a decision that the party won’t forget.”
Clarification: An earlier version of this story stated that Trump’s tweet specifically, rather than his criticism, may have prompted the Israeli denial.