Israel bars two members of US Congress

3 months ago
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Israel bars two members of US Congress


Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (left) and Ilhan OmarImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (left) and Ilhan Omar

Israel is blocking two US Democratic lawmakers and prominent critics of Israel 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.

On Thursday, Mr Trump took to Twitter to urge that they 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".

The two US lawmakers have yet to comment on the decision.

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.

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 was born in Michigan, and Ms Omar is from Minnesota but was born in Somalia. They have both strongly criticised Israel's human rights record, and have frequently denied charges of being anti-Semitic.

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.

What has Israel said?

A statement from the Israeli Interior Ministry confirming the ban said it was "inconceivable that those who wish to harm the state of Israel while visiting would be granted entry".

But only last month Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said the two Democrats would be permitted to visit "out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America".

On Wednesday, Mr Netanyahu held consultations with the country's foreign minister, interior minister, National Security Council chief and attorney general, according to Haaretz newspaper.

In a statement on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu said "there is no country in the world that respects the US and the American Congress more than Israel."

"However, the itinerary showed that the congresswomen's sole intention was to harm Israel."

What's the reaction?

New Jersey Congressman Tom Malinowski called the decision "disrespectful to Congress" and said during a cross-party congressional trip to Israel last week officials had assured them their colleagues would be allowed to visit.

"First he tells Congresswoman Tlaib to 'go back' to 'her' country, and then he tells that country not to let her in," he tweeted, referring to Mr Trump's comments.

Massachusetts Senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren called the move "shameful" and "unprecedented" against a member of the US Congress.

Who else has been banned?

The ban on two foreign dignitaries is rare but not unprecedented. Makarim Wibisono, a UN special rapporteur on human rights, was denied entry in 2015 after Israel said his mandate was anti-Israel.

However, no members of US Congress have been blocked before now. Israel often hosts congressional delegations. Earlier this month, 41 Democrats and 31 Republicans attended a visit sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby group.

Fouad Ahmad Assadi of Spain's Socialist Party, was barred from entering Israel last month because he was deemed a threat to national security.

The Lebanese-born politician travelled there to participate in the annual Socialist International conference in Tel Aviv and Ramallah - but he was denied entry at Ben Gurion Airport.

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www.bbc.co.uk