In an unprecedented move, Israel announced Aug. 15 that it would not permit two members of the U.S. Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), entry into the nation. Israel conceded a day later to allow Tlaib to visit her grandmother, but she declined the offer.
Meanwhile, a number of Jewish advocacy organizations voiced opposition to Israel’s decision.
The proposed visit by the pair was controversial as a result of their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Omar’s record of controversial comments about Israel and Tlaib’s Palestinian heritage. Israel initially announced that the pair would be allowed to visit, which would have taken place this past weekend.
Israeli’s interior minister announced the revised decision and was swiftly backed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that the U.S. government supported Israel’s decision.
“The state of Israel respects the U.S. Congress as part of the close alliance between the two countries. But it is inconceivable that Israel would be expected to let into the country those who wish to hurt it, including by means of the visit itself,” the interior ministry’s statement said.
The announcement followed a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump in which he said letting the pair enter Israel would “show great weakness.”
Israel’s Channel 12 reported that Trump and Netanyahu had repeated contact in the days leading up to the decision to deny entry.
After rejecting Israel’s offer to enter, Tlaib, who still has family in the West Bank, tweeted: “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”
Omar also issued a statement in response.
“It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government. Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” she said, referring to attempts from Trump to block immigration from several majority-Muslim countries.
Netanyahu defended the action, saying that Israel wouldn’t permit those who work to boycott the country to enter.
“Several days ago, we received [Omar and Tlaib’s] trip itinerary,” Netanyahu’s statement continued, “which clarified that they planned a visit whose sole purpose was to support boycotts and deny Israel’s legitimacy. For example, they called their destination ‘Palestine’ and not ‘Israel,’ and, … did not seek any meeting with any Israeli official, whether government or opposition.”
Since the decision, both U.S. and Israeli lawmakers, as well as advocacy organizations, have harshly criticized the action.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee spoke up in a rare criticism of Israeli government policy, tweeting: “We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
J Street, the left-wing Israel advocacy group, offered a similar rebuke.
“This reported decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu is dangerous, unacceptable and wrong,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the organization’s president. “As sitting members of Congress representing hundreds of thousands of Americans in their districts, Reps. Omar and Tlaib have the same right as every one of their colleagues to visit Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.”
The American Jewish Committee also noted that while the itinerary was not balanced and devoid of meetings with Israeli lawmakers, “AJC believes that, out of two less-than-ideal options, neither of which was risk-free, Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision,” a statement read.
Others in the Jewish community suggested the action could, in fact, harm Israel and empower the BDS movement, by politicizing and creating a partisan divide in support for the nation.
“This reversal is counterproductive to say the least and gives a victory to the BDS movement,” said Aaron Keyak, the former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “This action also sets a dangerous precedent for the many other countries — many led by dictators and ruthless thugs —that U.S. elected officials visit. A painful moment for those of us who care about a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and fight for the cause of peace.”
The congresswomen held a joint press conference Monday in which Omar said, “we cannot allow Trump and Netanyahu to succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us.”
Tlaib noted that “all Americans should be disturbed,” by Israel’s decision not to let them enter.
Compiled by AJT staff