(FOX 2) - Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar have both been blocked from visiting Israel because of their support of a Palestinian-led boycott movement.
An Israeli official told the Associated Press they had been discussing a planned visit by the two Democratic congresswomen, both of whom are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Tlaib's family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank.
Tzipi Hotovely,Israel's deputy foreign minister, told Israel Radio in an interview Thursday that "Israel has decided not to allow" Reps. Tlaib and Omar to visit as planned.
She says it is in keeping with a policy of denying entry to those who advocate boycotts of Israel.
While Israeli officials weighed the issue, President Donald Trump tweeted that "it would show great weakness" if Israel allowed them to visit. "They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds," the president wrote Thursday, calling the two congresswomen "a disgrace."
Israel has sought to combat the so-called BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions. The country passed a law permitting a ban on entry to any activist who "knowingly issues a call for boycotting Israel."
Supporters of the boycott movement say it is a non-violent way to protest Israeli policies and call for Palestinian rights. Critics say the movement aims to erase Israel and replace it with a single binational state.
Rep. Andy Levin released this statement in support of his fellow Michigan Representative:
“This is a completely misguided decision that reeks of political motivation. Congresswoman Tlaib, whose family lives in the West Bank, and Congresswoman Omar, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect that any other Member of Congress would receive. This decision pulls at the seams of our two countries’ important relationship and endangers Israel by attempting to politicize American support for the country. The Israeli government should reject the bigoted, wedge-driving political tactics of President Trump, who recently said that both congresswomen should “go back” to their countries, and grant Reps. Tlaib and Omar entry into the country to do their jobs.”
Israel often hosts delegations of U.S. representatives and senators, who usually meet with senior Israeli officials as well as Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank. Last month, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said Israel would not deny entry to any member of Congress.
A decision to ban the congresswomen could further sharpen divisions among U.S. Democrats over Israel ahead of the 2020 elections. Republicans have amplified the views of left-wing Democrats like Tlaib and Omar to present the party as deeply divided and at odds with Israel. Democratic leaders have pushed back, reiterating the party's strong support for Israel, in part to protect representatives from more conservative districts.
In July, the Democratic-led House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution against the BDS movement.
Tlaib and Omar have also been the target of repeated attacks by President Donald 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 Democrats, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
Politicians and former diplomats spoke out against barring the congresswomen from visiting following an unconfirmed report that Israel had resolved to bar Omar and Tlaib from entering the country.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro wrote on Twitter that the decision to bar their entry "harms Israel's standing in the U.S., boosts BDS."
Israeli lawmaker Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List of Arab parties, criticized the move, writing that "Israel has always banned Palestinians from their land and separated us from other Palestinians, but this time the Palestinian is a U.S. Congresswoman."
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."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.