Israel has decided to bar United States congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering the country in a trip that was planned this weekend.
This comes shortly after U.S. President Donald Trump said it would “show great weakness” to allow them in.
Last month, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said the two congresswomen would be allowed to visit Israel “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
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But on Wednesday, Israeli officials said that after consultations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other authorities in Israel, he decided not to allow Tlaib and Omar to enter because of “their boycott activities against Israel”.
A recently passed Israeli law “denies entry visas to foreign nationals who publicly back or call for any kind of boycott — economic, cultural or academic — against Israel or its West Bank settlements,” the Washington Post reports.
Basically, under that law, supporters of the BDS movement, a pro-Palestinian group which protests Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, can be denied entry to Israel.
Tlaib and Omar, who are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, are said to be staunch supporters of the BDS movement while the two have often said their criticisms of Israel’s government are based on policy differences.
43-year-old Tlaib was born in the United States but traces her roots to the Palestinian village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa in the occupied West Bank. Omar, 37, immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia as a child and currently represents Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.
Trump, on Thursday, said in a tweet: “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep Omar and Rep Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”
He had earlier, last month, asked the two congresswomen to go back to where they came from, a comment that was criticized as racist.
The move to bar the two women of colour from entering Israel has been described as unprecedented and not in line with Israel’s “claims of tolerance and openness.”
MIFTAH, the Palestinian group that was ready to host the two Democrats in their planned visit to Jerusalem and the West, described the latest development as “an affront to the American people and their representatives” and “an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world.”
“Like all prolific human rights abusers, Israel wants to impose a blackout on the reality in occupied Palestine and prevent Congresswomen Tlaib, Omar from having direct contact with the Palestinian people, who are subject to Israel’s cruel regime of colonisation, oppression, and land grab,” the group, headed by Palestinian lawmaker and longtime peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi said.
“This ban is a clear case of discrimination and hostility based on political views and ethnic background, deserving of moral indignation and unequivocal condemnation in Palestine and the United States.”
According to the Washington Post, the Democratic Party’s leading progressive presidential primary candidates have also criticised the decision, with Senator Bernie Sanders describing it a “sign of enormous disrespect to these elected leaders”.
Jewish House Democrats also fear that the decision “will only empower critics of Israel, fueling the BDS movement.” Other Democrats believe that the move will generate tensions between their party and Israel that Trump could take advantage of.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since 1948 is over who gets what land and how it is controlled. Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, is located just east of the Mediterranean Sea. Palestinians, the Arab population that hails from the land Israel now controls, refer to the territory as Palestine, and want to establish a state by that name on all or part of the same land.
This had led to series of wars between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations over the territory, resulting in deaths and injuries. The war in 1967 left Israel in control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, two territories home to large Palestinian populations.
A “two-state solution” that would establish Palestine as an independent state in Gaza and most of the West Bank, leaving the rest of the land to Israel is said to be the primary solution though both sides are still divided over how to make this work.
Over 150 Palestinians have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded by Israeli troops since the 2014 Gaza war. Palestinians have been protesting but this escalated, leading to more deaths on the day the U.S. opened its embassy in Jerusalem, a move the Palestinian people described as clear U.S. backing for Israeli rule over the whole city, whose eastern part they claim.
As the Palestinian struggle for freedom and human rights captures international attention, more and more countries have come under pressure to declare their stance on the Israeli occupation and most African countries including Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Africa have never shied away from stating their position.