Israel 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.
“The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Reshet Bet Radio.
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.
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.”
Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of Arab parties, said: “A state that has nothing to hide would not think of preventing the arrival of two members of Congress.”
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 indicating that 56% of Democrats would support economic sanctions on Israel if it continued to expand settlements.
“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,” US Senator Elizabeth Warren, a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, wrote on Twitter.