Israel has banned two US congresswomen from entering the country over their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement.
The move to bar Democrats Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting the close American ally appeared to be unprecedented, and marked a deep foray by Israel into America’s bitterly polarised politics. It is also a sharp escalation of Israel’s campaign against the international boycott movement.
The decision was announced shortly after President Donald Trump tweeted that it would “show great weakness” to allow them in for a planned visit.
Israeli interior minister Aryeh Deri issued a statement saying that after consultation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior officials, he had decided not to allow the two women to enter because of “their boycott activities against Israel”.
The two newly-elected Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. Ms Tlaib’s family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank.
In a statement, Mr Netanyahu said that based on the congresswomen’s itinerary for their upcoming visit to the West Bank and Jerusalem, “it became clear that they are planning a trip whose sole purpose was strengthening the boycott and negating the legitimacy of Israel”.
He said Israel has welcomed 70 Republican and Democratic members of Congress “with open arms”, and that “there’s not a state in the world that respects the United States and the US Congress more than the state of Israel”.
Shortly before the decision to bar the two women was announced, Mr Trump had 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,” he said, going on to call the two congresswomen “a disgrace”.
Israel has sought to combat the 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”.
Last month, however, Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer had said Israel would not deny entry to any member of Congress.
Supporters of the boycott movement say it is a non-violent way to protest against Israeli policies and call for Palestinian rights. Critics say the movement aims to legitimise Israel and ultimately erase it from the map, replacing it with a binational state.
Ms Tlaib and Ms Omar have also been the target of repeated attacks by Mr 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 US citizens and Ms Tlaib was born in America.
The two women are members of the so-called “Squad” of newly-elected left-wing Democrats, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi, long a supporter of Israel, criticised the decision and Mr Trump’s statements, saying they are “beneath the dignity of the Office of the President”.
She noted that Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, recently said that Israel would not deny any members of Congress from entering the country. She called the reversal “sad” and “deeply disappointing”.
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