Israel blocking entry of two Muslim US congresswomen over their criticism

Israel’s government decided to bar two Democratic congresswomen from entering the country on Thursday, in an unprecedented move that is likely to reverberate through the halls of the US Congress.

Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin and has family in the West Bank, and Ilhan Omar were expected to arrive at the weekend for a visit to Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories.

“As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “Israel’s law prohibits the entry of people who call and act to boycott Israel, as is the case with other democracies that prevent the entry of people whom they see as harming the country.”

The left-leaning Muslim congresswomen are outspoken critics of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians and support the so-called BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. They are also sharp critics of US President Donald Trump, a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ms Omar described Israel’s move as “an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation”.

Mr Trump earlier had taken to Twitter to urge that the two lawmakers be blocked from visiting, adding that “they hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds”.

Speaking to reporters later on Thursday, Mr Trump said, “I can’t imagine why Israel would let them in.

“But if they want to let them in, they can, but I can’t imagine why they would do it.”

he US ambassador to Israel said in a statement that the US “supports and respects the decision of the Government of Israel to deny entry”.

Israel “has every right to protect its borders against those activists in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons,” wrote Ambassador David Friedman.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), said in a tweet while they disagree with the lawmakers’ support for the boycott movement against Israel, they also believe “every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand”.

In 2017, Israel passed a law banning entry of activists including Jewish supporters of the BDS movement, arguing it is anti-Semitic and a threat to the country’s existence. Last month, Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said Israel would allow the lawmakers to enter “out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”

Supporters of BDS argue it is a non-violent movement similar to the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa in response to Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank and illegal settlement building.