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The move sparked a fierce backlash from Democrats in Congress who said it would hurt U.S.-Israel relations.
USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Israeli officials announced Thursday that Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., will be blocked from entering the country ahead of their planned visit this weekend, following a tweet from President Donald Trump urging the country to not allow them to make their trip.

In his first remarks since Israel’s decision, Trump blasted the two Democratic congresswomen for remarks the president called “disgraceful.”

“I think it’s disgraceful the things they’ve said,” Trump told reporters traveling with him to a campaign rally in New Hampshire. “I can’t imagine why Israel would let them.”

Trump declined to say whether he personally lobbied Israeli officials to block Omar and Tlaib.

“I think my social media statement pretty well speaks for itself,” Trump said. “I don’t encourage or discourage. I think if Israel allowed them to come in…it would be a terrible thing for Israel.”

The two lawmakers, the first Muslim women elected to serve in Congress, were going to travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank, among other stops, this weekend.

The announcement caused backlash from a number of Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. The two top Democrats both issued statements calling on Israel to reverse its decision.

Here’s what we know about Israel barring Omar and Tlaib from entering the country:

Trump pushed to block visit

The president on Thursday morning encouraged Israel to not allow Omar and Tlaib to visit the country, calling the two lawmakers a “disgrace.”

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” he wrote in a tweet. “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,” he continued. “They are a disgrace!”

Less than two hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in a tweet that the two lawmakers were not allowed to visit because it “became clear that they were planning a campaign whose sole purpose was to strengthen the boycott and negate Israel’s legitimacy.”

Trump has had an ongoing feud with the two Democratic lawmakers, who are both part of the “Squad,” which also includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

He called on the four progressive congresswomen of color to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” All four women are U.S. citizens.

Omar immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia when she was 8 years old fleeing the country’s civil war. She is a naturalized U.S. citizen. Tlaib was born in Detroit to Palestinian immigrant parents.

More: Israel blocks Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering country

Both congresswomen have been highly critical of Trump and his administration for many of its policies. Omar, in particular, has sparked controversy over her outspoken opposition to the Trump administration’s foreign policy and her remarks about the influence of the pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S., which many said played into anti-Semitic tropes. 

Both Omar and Tlaib have also expressed support for a boycott targeting Israel due to its treatment of Palestinians. However, they’ve said that their views are not based on anti-Jewish sentiment, but on policy disagreements.

Why Israel barred Omar and Tlaib from entering the country

Netanyahu pointed to Omar and Tlaib’s support of the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” — or BDS — movement, which aims to pressure Israel into ending an occupation of the West Bank, as the reason the lawmakers are not allowed to visit Israel.

“Congressmen Talib and Omar are leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the US Congress,” Netanyahu wrote. 

He noted that all visitors are welcomed to Israel, except for those who support movements to boycott Israel. Israel passed a law in 2017 that instructs the Israeli Interior minister to ban foreign nationals who publicly support a movement such as BDS.

Omar over the past couple of months has also come under fire for remarks she’s made about Israel.

In March, Omar in a tweet suggest that the pro-Israel lobby pushes lawmakers to show “allegiance to a foreign country,” adding that accusations of anti-Semitism are “designed to end the debate” about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

She also was criticized in February for tweeting American lawmakers’ lack of criticism of Israel’s policies was “all about the Benjamins.” She also said that American lawmakers are under the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – a leading pro-Israel lobbying group. 

That remark drew heavy criticism from her Capitol Hill colleagues on both sides of the aisle. She later apologized and deleted those tweets.

More: Why were Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib barred from entering Israel?

How Omar and Tlaib have responded

Both lawmakers condemned the decision barring them from visiting Israel. 

Omar in a statement called Netanyahu’s decision to deny two sitting congresswomen the ability to visit the country “an affront.” 

“Sadly, this is not a surprise given the public positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump,” Omar continued in the statement.

Tlaib on Thursday afternoon tweeted a photo of her grandmother, saying that Israel’s decision is a “sign of weakness.”

“This woman right here is my sity,” the congresswoman wrote in a tweet. “She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her. The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”

Dem and some GOP lawmakers have come to Omar’s and Tlaib’s defense 

Pelosi and Schumer are not the only Democrats to called on Israel to reconsider its decision

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he spoke with Netanyahu Wednesday and urged him to allow Omar and Tlaib to visit.

“This action reflects weakness, not strength,” he said. “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.”

Rep. Eliot Engel, a Jewish Democrat from New York and staunch supporter of Israel, said the decision will “only strengthen the anti-Israel movements.”

More: American politicians react to ‘shameful’ decision to ban Reps. Omar, Tlaib from Isreal

“If Israel’s government hopes to win the support of American lawmakers across the political spectrum, then this visit could have been an opportunity to share views and make a case for why American support for Israel is so important,” he said in the statement. “Instead, refusing entry to members of Congress looks like Israel closing itself off to criticism and dialogue. This decision will only strengthen the anti-Israel movements and arguments many of us find so troubling, further politicize support for Israel in the United States, and ultimately play right into the hands of Israel’s enemies.” 

Engel, who is chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has previously called on Omar to apologize for some of her past statements about Israel.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, has also criticized Israel’s decision. 

“I disagree 100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel & am the author of the #AntiBDS bill we passed in the Senate,” he wrote in a tweet. “But denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake.”

“Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state,” he concluded.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who has broken with Trump’s administration in the past, said in a pair of tweets that Israel should have let the two congresswomen visit and that the president made a “mistake” with his tweet.

“Israel should allow U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to visit. The Trump Administration made a mistake in urging Israel to prevent them from entering the country,” Collins wrote. “Instead, the Administration should have encouraged Israel to welcome the visit as an opportunity for Reps. Tlaib and Omar to learn from the Israeli people.

“We have to be willing to talk if we want people to change their views,” she concluded.

Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, ahead of Israel’s announcement, called on the country to “stand up to” Trump and allow Omar and Tlaib to visit.

“Nobody has to agree with their opinions, but it will inevitably harm U.S.-Israel relations if members of Congress are banned from the country,” he wrote on Twitter. “We must find ways to come together; there’s enough division.”

Amash recently left the Republican Party and is of Palestinian heritage.

AIPAC also came out against Israel’s restrictions, saying every member of Congress should be able to visit the country.

“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,” the organization wrote in a tweet. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”

However, some have praised the decision, such as U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.

“The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is not free speech. Rather, it is no less than economic warfare designed to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish State,” he said in a statement.

Contributing: Nicholas Wu, Deirdre Shesgreen, Jeanine Santucci, William Cummings and John Fritze

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