Israel bans entry to outspoken U.S. congresswomen

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel said Thursday that it will bar two Democratic congresswomen from entering the country ahead of a planned visit over their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement, a decision announced shortly after President Donald Trump tweeted that it would "show great weakness" to allow them in.

The move to bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from visiting the close American ally appeared to be unprecedented, and marked a deep foray by Israel into America's bitterly polarized politics. It is also a sharp escalation of Israel's campaign against the international boycott movement.

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U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks as, from left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., listen during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. President Donald Trump on Monday intensified his incendiary comments about the four Democratic congresswomen of color, urging them to get out if they don't like things going on in America. They fired back at what they called his "xenophobic bigoted remarks" and said it was time for impeachment. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., left, joined at right by U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., responds to base remarks by President Donald Trump after he called for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All four congresswomen are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. Omar is the first Somali-American in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., respond to base remarks by President Donald Trump after he called for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All four congresswomen are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. Omar is the first Somali-American in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., respond to base remarks by President Donald Trump after he called for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All four congresswomen are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. Omar is the first Somali-American in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., center, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., right, attend a House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019, on White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's violation of the Hatch Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., flanked by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., left, and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., responds to remarks by President Donald Trump after he called for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All four congresswomen are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. Omar is the first Somali-American in Congress. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks as, from left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., listen during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. President Donald Trump on Monday intensified his incendiary comments about the four Democratic congresswomen of color, urging them to get out if they don't like things going on in America. They fired back at what they called his "xenophobic bigoted remarks" and said it was time for impeachment. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., center, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., right, attend a House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019, on White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's violation of the Hatch Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., speaks as, from left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., listen during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. President Donald Trump on Monday intensified his incendiary comments about the four Democratic congresswomen of color, urging them to get out if they don't like things going on in America. They fired back at what they called his "xenophobic bigoted remarks" and said it was time for impeachment. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., center, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., right, gather their things following the adjournment of a House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019, on White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's violation of the Hatch Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., center, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., right, attend a House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019, on White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's violation of the Hatch Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., responds to base remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., center, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., right, attend a House Oversight Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019, on White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's violation of the Hatch Act. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., respond to base remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., responds to base remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for four Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their "broken" countries, as he exploited the nation's glaring racial divisions once again for political gain, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
From left, Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Rep. llhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Monday, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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Interior Minister Aryeh Deri issued a statement saying that after consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials he decided not to allow Tlaib and Omar 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 the Palestinians. Tlaib's family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank.

Shortly before the decision was announced, 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 went on to call the two congresswomen "a disgrace."

Israel has sought to combat the 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." Last month, however, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. 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 Israeli policies and call for Palestinian rights. Critics say the movement aims to delegitimize Israel and ultimately erase it from the map, replacing it with a binational state.

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.

The 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.

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Holocaust memorial day 2019 in Israel
Israeli soldiers and guests attend the opening ceremony of Israel's annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 2, 2019. The somber day is also marked by ceremonies and memorials at schools and community centers. Restaurants and cafes close, and TV and radio stations play quiet music and Holocaust-themed programs. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Israeli soldiers hold a wreath as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, center left, and other guests attend the opening ceremony of Israel's annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 2, 2019. The somber day is also marked by ceremonies and memorials at schools and community centers. Restaurants and cafes close, and TV and radio stations play quiet music and Holocaust-themed programs. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin attend a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem May 2, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin attend a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem May 2, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem May 2, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin attend a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem May 2, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
Israeli soldier Shira Tessler holds the hand of her grandmother, Holocaust survivor Hanna Tessler during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem May 2, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
Israeli soldiers stand in formation during a ceremony marking the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem May 2, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
Israeli soldiers stand in formation during the opening ceremony of Israel's annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial, in Jerusalem, Thursday, May 2, 2019. Israelis are standing still for a nationwide moment of silence in remembrance of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP)
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American Jewish organizations had objected to barring the two Democrats from entering the country. The American Jewish Congress said that despite Omar and Tlaib's planned "propaganda exercise," it believed that "the costs in the U.S. of barring the entry of two members of Congress may prove even higher than the alternative."

Politicians and former diplomats also spoke out against barring the congresswomen from visiting.

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."

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