ADDS TLAIB, US AMBASSADOR STATEMENTS IN GRAFS 10-12
By Michael Hernandez
WASHINGTON (AA) - The Israeli government opted Thursday to block two high-profile U.S. congresswomen from visiting the country and the occupied West Bank, sparking sweeping condemnation from some and rumpus praise from President Donald Trump.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government was blocking congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar because of their support for an international boycott movement of Israel.
The elected representatives have been vocal proponents of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which seeks to ramp up economic pressure on Israel for its treatment of Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories, and its continued construction of settlements in the West Bank that are considered illegal under international law.
"Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prohibit the entry of people who seek to harm the country," Netanyahu said on Twitter.
The lawmakers are the first two Muslim congresswomen in U.S. history, and have been critical of Washington’s support for Israel, as well as President Donald Trump who just minutes before Israel's announcement said "it would show great weakness if Israel allowed" the lawmakers to visit.
"Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!" Trump said in a separate tweet.
The lawmakers were set to visit Israel and the West Bank this weekend, according to multiple reports.
Omar quickly issued a statement critical of Netanyahu's decision, charging he is instituting "Trump’s Muslim ban."
“As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it is my job to conduct oversight of foreign aid from the United States of America and to legislate on human rights practices around the world," she said. "The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation.”
Tlaib posted a photograph of her Palestinian grandmother on Twitter with a caption that read: "She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity."
"I am who I am because of her," she wrote. "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."
David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel, voiced support for Israel following the announcement by arguing it "has every right to protect its borders” against boycott activists whom he likened to "entrants with more conventional weapons."
But Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives where both Omar and Tlaib serve, called it "a sign of weakness" in lambasting Israel’s decision.
"I pray that the Government of Israel will reverse that denial," she said.
House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel also took issue with the decision, saying that while he has disagreements with the lawmakers when it comes to Israel "it’s a mistake for the Israeli government to bar entry of members of Congress into Israel."
Even the staunchly pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee -- which works to ensure bipartisan support for Israel on Capitol Hill -- issued a rebuke, however tepid, of Israel's decision.
"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 committee wrote on Twitter. "We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."