Israel will allow BDS-backing congresswomen Omar, Tlaib to enter country

Envoy to US Ron Dermer tells ToI that waiver will be granted under controversial 2017 law allowing the lawmakers to visit the Jewish state

This combination of 2018 photos shows Representatives Ilhan Omar (Democrat-Minnesota), left, and Rashida Tlaib (Democrat-Michigan), in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster,)
This combination of 2018 photos shows Representatives Ilhan Omar (Democrat-Minnesota), left, and Rashida Tlaib (Democrat-Michigan), in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster,)

WASHINGTON — Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said on Friday that Israel will not prevent two BDS-supporting members of Congress from entering Israel next month.

Earlier this week, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, said that she would visit Israel and the West Bank with Palestinian-American Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, in August. Omar and Tlaib are the first female Muslim congresswomen. Both back the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.

“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 any foreigner from entering the country who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, speaks at the Economic Club of Detroit in Detroit, Michigan, on June 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

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.

Due to the sensitive nature and timing of Omar and Tlaib’s visit, Haaretz had reported on Wednesday that the final decision would be made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The two lawmakers’ visit comes after US President Donald Trump targeted them in recent tweets, saying they — and two other freshmen liberal congresswomen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts — hated America and Israel and should  “go back” to the “crime-infested places from which they came.” Those remarks were condemned as racist in a House resolution passed this week, largely along partisan lines.

Omar on Tuesday 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 Civil Rights movement who marched on Selma.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on July 14, 2019. (Ronen Zvulun/pool/AFP)

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.

Both Omar and Tlaib have been frequent sources of controversy since their ascension to Capitol Hill earlier this year.

Omar was accused of anti-Semitism in February after she said that American support for Israel was driven by money from the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC. In May, Tlaib sparked a similar firestorm after she claimed her Palestinian ancestors “had to suffer” for the Jews to have a safe haven in the wake of the Holocaust.

Omar has said she supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Tlaib, however, has advocated for a single-state outcome.

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