Israel could bar Omar, Tlaib from visiting, official says
Netanyahu discusses thorny issue with AG, top ministers; final decision on the US Congress members lies with interior minister, who has been adamant about banning BDS backers
Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.
After extensive consultations, the Israeli government may decide not to let US Democratic congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib enter the country, an Israeli diplomatic official said Thursday.
The planned visit of the two controversial freshman lawmakers has made headlines in recent days after it was reported that US President Donald Trump was disappointed with Israel’s decision not to bar them from coming. Israel’s laws allow border authorities to turn away supporters of the anti-Israel boycott movement.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the matter with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, according to the official.
“The possibility exists that Israel will not allow the visit as currently planned,” said the official, speaking to reporters on condition of anonymity. “The professional and legal teams in the Prime Minister’s Office are still studying the material.”
The final say lies with the interior minister, the official added.
Deri has in the past taken a hardline position on letting backers of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement into the country, citing a law that allows Israel to bar BDS activists from entering.
Until Thursday morning, it was generally presumed that Israel would not hinder the two congresswomen from visiting out of respect to the US.
Soon after the diplomatic official said that Israel may yet prevent Omar and Tlaib from entering the country, other officials said the government is considering allowing them in but restricting their movement to the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, Channel 13 reported.
If Tlaib wished to visit her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Foqa, Israel would consider her request on humanitarian grounds, officials told the network.
Last month Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said that she would visit Israel and the West Bank with Tlaib, a Palestinian-American congresswoman from Michigan. The two are the first female Muslim congresswomen.
Last Saturday, Axios reported that Trump had criticized the Israeli decision to allow Omar and Tlaib to visit the country. Trump said that if Omar and Tlaib wanted to boycott Israel, “then Israel should boycott them,” the report said, quoting a source with direct knowledge.
However, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied that Trump — who recently singled out Omar, Tlaib and two of their colleagues for several harsh rebukes — had ever given any kind of directive to the Israelis. “The Israeli government can do what they want. It’s fake news,” Grisham told Axios.
Last month Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said Israel would not prevent the lawmakers from coming.
“Out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” Dermer told The Times of Israel in a statement.
Under a controversial law that Israel enacted in 2017, the state can prohibit from entering the country any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.” Since then, the Interior and Strategic Affairs ministries have used the statute to deny visas to a handful of students, activists and artists upon their arrival to Israel.
The Foreign Ministry, however, can recommend the law be waived for visiting politicians or government officials out of diplomatic concerns.
On Wednesday evening, Channel 13 reported that Israeli officials are preparing for the possibility that the two lawmakers may seek to visit the flashpoint Temple Mount in Jerusalem during their stay in the country.
The timing of the congresswomen’s visit has not yet been confirmed, though multiple Israeli reports said they were expected to arrive Friday.
Omar last month introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by Tlaib, ostensibly aimed at pushing back against laws seeking to clamp down on boycotts of Israel. The resolution, which does not explicitly mention Israel or the Palestinians, affirms the right of Americans to participate in boycotts as an expression of free speech under the First Amendment, citing boycott movements against Nazi Germany, the USSR and apartheid South Africa.
It currently has three sponsors — Omar, Tlaib and Democratic Georgia Rep. John Lewis, an icon of the US civil rights movement.
Omar, Tlaib and other BDS supporters say that in urging businesses, artists and universities to sever ties with Israel, they are using nonviolent means to oppose unjust policies toward Palestinians. Israel counters that the movement masks its motivation to delegitimize or destroy the Jewish state.
Omar has said she supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Tlaib has advocated for a single-state outcome.
Time of Israel staff contributed to this report.