Last week, 41 Democratic members of Congress visited Israel, and 31 Republicans are currently there now, reports the Jerusalem Post. Such routine visits don't generate much attention. By contrast, the proposed visit of two more members of Congress very much surfaced as a source of international headlines—because those two members happen to be Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, vocal critics of Israel. On Thursday, Benjamin Netanyahu's government officially banned the pair, after being pressured by President Trump to do just that. Coverage:
- About-face: Last month, Israel Ambassador Ron Dermer said the pair would be allowed to visit, but Prime Minister Netanyahu began signaling over the past week that he might reverse course, reports the Washington Post. It became official on Thursday. "The decision has been made; the decision is not to allow them to enter," said Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely on Reshet Radio. The congresswomen were due to arrive on Friday, and the decision will not sit well with Democratic leaders of Congress.
- The rationale: A new law allows Israel to bar people who support the movement to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians, per the Wall Street Journal. Omar and Tlaib clearly qualify, as both have publicly backed the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. (Omar also has been formally rebuked by fellow House Democrats for using "anti-Semitic tropes.")
- Netanyahu: "Congressmen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the US Congress," he tweeted. (Translation, via USA Today.) "Only a few days ago, we received their visitation plan, and it became clear that they were planning a campaign whose sole purpose was to strengthen the boycott and negate Israel's legitimacy."
- Trump's role: The president had weighed in Thursday morning, continuing his frequent criticism of the members of "The Squad." "It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit," he tweeted. "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!" Over the weekend, Axios first reported that Trump wanted the visit blocked.
- Their reaction: "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," said Omar. Tlaib called it a "sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening," and she accompanied her tweet with an image of her Palestinian grandmother.
- The other reason: Netanyahu is locked in a close election fight, notes the New York Times, and he can't afford to look weak to his base. Voting takes place in September. He and Trump have strong relations.
- Itinerary: Omar and Tlaib had no visits booked with Israeli leaders. Instead, they planned to visit the West Bank cities of Hebron, Ramallah, and Bethlehem. Axios reports that the biggest fear of Israeli officials is that they would visit Temple Mount, which it describes as the most holy site for Jews and the third holiest for Muslims. Both Israel and the Palestinians make claims of sovereignty over it. Tlaib also wanted to stay longer to visit her grandmother in the West Bank.
(Read more Ilhan Omar