WASHINGTON -- At the urging of President Donald Trump, Israel on Thursday took the extraordinary step of barring two Democratic U.S. congresswomen who have been outspoken critics of the president from visiting the country.
Trump, who has launched a campaign against Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, tweeted Thursday: "It would show great weakness if Israel allowed" the women to visit, claiming: "They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds."
After Trump's tweet, the Israeli government announced it would ban the women from an upcoming congressional trip. Both are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and support a boycott of Israel.
"Israel has decided. We won't enable the members of Congress members to enter the country," Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told the Kan public broadcaster, according to the Israeli website Times of Israel. "We won't allow those who deny our right to exist in this world to enter Israel. In principle this is a very justified decision."
Last month, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said Israel would not deny entry to any member of Congress.
Banning members of Congress from entering Israel is a risky move given the billions of dollars approved for Israel annually and the unusual bipartisan support Israel has long enjoyed in both the House and Senate.
Trump's pressure forced Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to choose between appeasing a U.S. president that has been a strong political supporter and potentially alienating Congress, where Israeli policy for decades had been to avoid taking partisan sides. Netanyahu's quick decision to side with Trump suggested it was not a difficult decision.
Democrats quickly blasted the move.
"Israel doesn't advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering U.S. ally by barring elected members of Congress from visiting because of their political views," tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) "This would be a shameful, unprecedented move. I urge Israel's government to allow @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib entry.
Far from discourage lawmakers from visiting, Israel historically has courted and funded such trips. Israel often hosts delegations of U.S. representatives and senators, who usually meet with senior Israeli officials as well as Palestinian officials in the West Bank.
Tlaib and Omar have been the target of repeated attacks by Trump in recent months, including a series of racist tweets on July 14 in which he said they should "go back" to the "broken" countries they came from. Both are U.S. citizens and Tlaib was born in the United States. The two are members of the so-called "squad" of newly-elected left-wing Democratic representatives, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Several former Israeli diplomats spoke out on Twitter against barring the congresswomen.
Arthur Lenk, formerly Israel's ambassador to South Africa, said barring Omar and Tlaib "would be sinking us deeper into U.S. domestic political quagmire."
Alon Pinkas, formerly Israel's consul in New York, called such an action "fake policy" and said Israel should instead "engage Omar and Tlaib, show them where they are wrong or have a partial and skewed perception of reality."
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