Israel has blocked entry to Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who support and have advocated for the anti-Israel BDS movement.

Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely announced the move on Thursday, despite Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, saying last month that the two freshmen congresswomen would be allowed to visit “out of respect for the U.S. Congress, and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel.”

“Israel has decided—we won’t enable the members of Congress to enter the country,” Hotovely told Israeli media outlet Kan. “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.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “No country in the world respects America and the American Congress more than the State of Israel. As a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prohibit the entry of people who seek to harm the country.”

He continued, “The itinerary of the two congresswomen reveals that the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it. In addition, the organization that is funding their trip is Miftah, which is an avid supporter of BDS, and among whose members are those who have expressed support for terrorism against Israel.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Hadas Frosch/Flash 90.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday called on Israel to deny Tlaib and Omar from entering the Jewish state.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!” he tweeted.

It was reported that Israel was worried that the two would visit the Temple Mount, stirring up further controversy, especially after a weekend of riots and disruption there due to the confluence of the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av and the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha (“Festival of Sacrifice”) on Sunday.

Debating the costs to America of barring congress members

The reaction from pro-Israel groups to banning the two was mixed.

“While we disagree strongly with the anti-Israel, and in some instances anti-Semitic, views articulated by Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar, and while we were disturbed to learn that their planned itinerary was completely unbalanced, there is simply no excuse for any country, including Israel, to prevent travel by elected officials of the United States,” said Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) co-chair Ann Lewis, and president and CEO Mark Mellman. “Unfortunately, the Government of Israel was both wrong and unwise to reverse their earlier decision to allow these elected members of Congress to visit the country.”

The American Jewish Committee supported Israel’s initial decision to admit the two, and stated that “Israel did not choose wisely by reversing its original decision.”

“While we fully respect Israel’s sovereign right to control entry into the country—a right that every nation employs—and while we are under no illusions about the implacably hostile views of Reps. Omar and Tlaib on Israel-related issues, we nonetheless believe that the costs in the U.S. of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative,” said AJC CEO David Harris.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Jewish Democratic Council of America echoed AJC and DMFI.

“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,” tweeted AIPAC.

However, the Zionist Organization of America “strongly supports Israel’s decision to refuse entry of Israelophobic Jew-haters Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar into Israel,” said the organization’s president, Mort Klein, and chairman, Mark Levenson. “Tlaib and Omar seek Israel’s destruction and are leading promoters of anti-Jewish anti-Israel boycotts. They even outrageously compare boycotting Israel to boycotting Nazis.”

Only Omar has compared BDS to previous boycotts of Nazi Germany in addition to the Soviet Union, last month introducing a resolution to support the right to boycott Israel. Her resolution seeks to push back against U.S. laws that ban the boycott of Israel, while affirming the right of Americans to organize boycotts of foreign countries. While the resolution itself doesn’t mention BDS or Israel, the congresswoman has said that it represents support of boycotting the Jewish state.

Over the past few weeks, separate congressional delegations of Democrats and Republicans have visited Israel, including a good number of freshmen legislators. Tlaib and Omar refused to join the Democratic trip with their colleagues and insisted on leading their own trip, which would consist of visiting areas under the Palestinian Authority.

Hoyer: ‘This action reflects weakness, not strength’

Both U.S House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have called for Israel to allow entry to Tlaib and Omar.

Hoyer strongly criticized Thursday’s announcement.

“Israel is a strong and resilient nation. It is a robust democracy with a wide divergence of views and opinions, as is the United States. This action reflects weakness, not strength,” he said in a statement. “Instead, the Israeli government should seek to engage these members of Congress in a dialogue regarding Israel’s security and the future of both Israelis and Palestinians. When members of Congress visit Israel, they gain a stronger appreciation for its unique challenges and the existential threats that endanger Israel’s survival as a Jewish, democratic state.”

McCarthy’s congressional office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates denounced Israel’s choice.

“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. This would be a shameful, unprecedented move. I urge Israel’s government to allow @IlhanMN and @RashidaTlaib entry,” tweeted Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).

“Banning Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel and Palestine is a sign of enormous disrespect to these elected leaders, to the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy. The Israeli government should reverse this decision and allow them in,” tweeted Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).

“I’m disappointed that the Prime Minister and his government did this, and it is clear that President Trump pushed him to do so as part of his effort to make Israel policy a partisan wedge to further divide the country,” tweeted former Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.)

“We benefit from more dialogue, not less. While I strongly disagree with Rep Tlaib and Rep Omar’houses support of BDS, I strongly agree that vibrant democracies and great leaders must lift up and put the long term strength of the alliance above partisan talking points,” he added.

Reportedly, Tlaib will be allowed to visit her family in the West Bank if she files a humanitarian request.

At the end of the day, “by attempting this trip, Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar knew very well that they were putting Israeli in a lose-lose situation,” Sarah Stern, founder and president for the Endowment for Middle East Truth, told JNS. “Either way, they were going to win a propaganda victory against the State of Israel. Given their highly inflammatory statements against the state of Israel and recent history, no one, for even a nanosecond, could believe that they were attempting to visit Israel with an open mind.”