Israel bars Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting

BBC-Israel is blocking two US Democratic lawmakers, who are prominent critics of the Israeli government, from visiting.

Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were due to visit the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem next week.

Both have supported the boycott movement against Israel, but Israeli law allows supporters of the campaign to be banned from visiting.

President Trump earlier tweeted it would show “great weakness” if the pair were allowed entry.

Ms Omar described Israel’s move as “an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation”.

Mr Trump earlier had taken to Twitter to urge that the two lawmakers be blocked from visiting, adding that “they hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds”.

Skip Twitter post by @realDonaldTrump

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Donald J. Trump

✔@realDonaldTrump

It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. 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!

Ms Omar and Ms Tlaib have both been criticised for their stance on Israel – but have denied charges of being anti-Semitic.

Speaking to reporters later on Thursday, Mr Trump said, “I can’t imagine why Israel would let them in.”

Why have they been banned?

Israeli law blocks entrance visas to any foreigner who calls for any type of boycott that targets Israel – either economic, cultural or academic.

The law attempts to suppress the “boycott, divest, sanction” movement, which has drawn growing support across Europe and the US.

Israeli officials had earlier said they would make an exception for the elected US officials, before backtracking.

According to US media, their trip was meant to begin on Sunday, and would include a stop at one of the most sensitive sites in the region – a hilltop plateau in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.

They also planned to visit Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank cities of Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron.

The trip to the West Bank was planned by Miftah, an organisation headed by Palestinian peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi.

Ms Tlaib was planning to stay for two extra days to visit her grandmother, who lives in a Palestinian village.

Who are they?

President Trump, who has a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has frequently feuded with the lawmakers and in remarks widely condemned as racist, told them to “go back” to the countries that their families were from.

Ms Tlaib – the first member of the US Congress of Palestinian descent – was born in Michigan, and Ms Omar is from Minnesota but was born in Somalia.

After the Democratic-led House of Representatives voted against the boycott against Israel movement in July, Ms Tlaib criticised the country as “racist”.

“I can’t stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government and the state of Israel,” she said.

The House also voted to condemn hate speech in a move directed at Ms Omar for her criticism of US support for Israel.

“It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Ms Omar had tweeted in a reference to the US $100 note, leading to allegations that she was using a negative stereotype for Jews.

She later apologised, and said the tweet was meant to criticise lobbyists, not Jews. She also thanked “Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes”.

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