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Israel Denies Entry to Omar and Tlaib After Trump’s Call to Block Them

JERUSALEM — Israel on Thursday barred the entry of two American Democratic congresswomen who had planned to visit the West Bank, the deputy foreign minister on Israeli radio said, hours after President Trump had urged the country to bar them.

Mr. Trump’s intervention was an extraordinary step to influence an allied nation and punish his political opponents at home.

It was reported last week that Mr. Trump was pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to deny entrance to the two women, Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and Thursday morning he left little doubt. He said in a Twitter post while Israeli officials were still deliberating the matter that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit.”

“The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, told Israel’s Reshet Bet Radio.

There was no immediate confirmation from either the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the Interior Ministry. Both Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib have been vocal in their support of the Palestinians and the boycott-Israel movement.

Mr. Trump’s decision to recommend that another country block entry to two United States citizens, let alone members of Congress, was one of the most pronounced violations of democratic norms that he has engaged in since taking office in January 2017.

It also placed him at odds with the Republican leadership in Congress.

“I feel very secure in this, that anyone who comes with open ears, open eyes and an open mind will walk away with an understanding, just as all these members here do, that this bond is unbreakable,” the House minority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, told reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday, while leading a delegation of 31 Republican lawmakers. “I think all should come.”

Speaking at a joint news conference with Mr. McCarthy, Representative Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader, who was heading a delegation to Israel of 41 Democratic representatives, agreed.

Many Israelis and Jewish leaders have also expressed discomfort with the idea that American officials could be denied entry because of their beliefs or criticism of Israel. Just last month, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, said that Israel would not deny entry to any United States representatives.

Ms. Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Ms. Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, were scheduled to arrive on Sunday for a tour of the West Bank, partly under the auspices of an organization headed by a longtime Palestinian lawmaker, Hanan Ashrawi, that was expected to highlight Palestinian grievances over the Israeli occupation.

The women were planning to visit the West Bank cities of Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, including a visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque, a hotly contested and volatile holy site, according to Ms. Ashrawi. Most of the delegation was expected to depart on Aug. 22, but Ms. Tlaib had been planning to stay on to visit relatives in the West Bank.

No meetings had been planned with either Israeli or Palestinian officials, other than Ms. Ashrawi, who is also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee. She said the organization she leads, Miftah, was co-sponsoring the visit.

The purpose of the visit, Ms. Ashrawi said, was to give the congresswomen a way “to engage with the Palestinian people directly and to see things on the ground.”

“What are they afraid of?” she said, referring to the Israeli government. “That they might find out things?”

Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar, both freshmen, are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Ms. Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, has spoken often of her grandmother, who lives on the West Bank, while Ms. Omar, a Somali refugee, is the first woman to wear a hijab on the House floor.

But while they were hailed as symbols of diversity when they arrived in Washington, they quickly became embroiled in controversy over their statements on Israel and on supporters of the Jewish state. Ms. Omar apologized after she said support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins, baby” — a reference to $100 bills.

In early March, the House voted to condemn all forms of hatred after Ms. Omar said pro-Israel activists were “pushing for allegiance to a foreign country,” a remark that critics in both parties said invoked the longstanding anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalty.”

Those remarks have been deeply problematic for Democratic leaders, who are trying to demonstrate solidarity with Israel. And they have given Mr. Trump and his fellow Republicans an opening to fan the flames of racial division, in an effort to break the longstanding alliance between American Jews and the Democratic Party.

Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib’s public support for the boycott movement had already drawn criticism from the White House. In remarks last month that were widely condemned as racist, Mr. Trump said that four congresswomen of color — Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib, as well as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts — should “go back” to the countries they came from. Since then, the chant of “send her back” has become a fixture at President Trump’s political rallies.

Axios reported recently that President Trump had told advisers that he thought Mr. Netanyahu should bar Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar under a law that denies entry to foreign nationals who publicly show support for a boycott.

Under the law, passed in 2017, Israel can bar entry to people considered prominent advocates of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, a loose network that, among other goals, aims to pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the West Bank. Pro-Israel advocates accuse the movement’s supporters of anti-Semitism.

Last month, the United States House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution condemning the boycott-Israel movement as one that “promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace.”

Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, is in the middle of a tight election campaign, and some analysts say he can ill afford to appear weak when dealing with high-profile critics of Israeli policies. At the same time, he is involved in a high-wire act of trying to balance Israel’s ties with the Democrats and his close embrace of, and support from, Mr. Trump.

“If they are prevented from entering, it will be the foolishness of the Netanyahu government,” said Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul general in New York, told Israel’s Army Radio on Thursday. “These are congresswomen of the majority party, which most American Jews vote for.”

One of the main points of contention over the planned itinerary appears to be the visit to the Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. A sacred site revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as Temple Mount, the location of their ancient temples, it is a frequent flash point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States and a former deputy foreign minister, told Israel’s Kan Radio on Thursday that the congresswomen should be allowed to enter Israel “but with restrictions.”

“If they want to stage a provocation by entering the Temple Mount with Palestinian hosts, then that can be prevented,” he said.

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