US President Donald Trump said he supported Israel’s decision to bar two Democratic members of Congress from visiting the country, Thursday, but claimed he did not push Jerusalem on the move.
Israel announced earlier Thursday that it had taken the unprecedented move of barring a visit by Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota over their support for boycotting the country and their planned itinerary, which appeared to highlight anti-Israel activism.
Trump told reporters during a campaign stop in New Jersey on Thursday that he “did speak to people over there” regarding the decision but says he was “only involved from the standpoint that they’re very anti-Jewish and very anti-Israel.”
He said he did not “encourage or discourage” the move, but said it would be “a terrible thing for Israel” to allow them in.
“If they want to let them in they can, but I don’t know why they would want to do it,” Trump said.
“I think it would be a terrible thing for Israel to let these two people who speak so badly about Israel come in,” he said. “They’ve said some of the worst things I’ve ever heard said about Israel. so how can Israel say welcome?”
Israel had initially said it would allow Tlaib and Omar to visit, but abruptly reversed course Thursday after holding government consultations.
A final announcement was made after Trump tweeted that it would “show great weakness” to let them in.
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019
Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer denied Thursday that the Trump administration had played a role in the decision to bar the two.
“We were not pressured by the Trump administration to do this and this is a sovereign decision that Israel has to make,” Dermer said Thursday.
However, a source involved the Israeli government deliberations told the Reuters news agency that Washington had pressed Israel on the issue.
“In a discussion held two weeks ago all the officials were in favor of letting them in but, after Trump’s pressure, they reversed the decision,” the source said, according to the agency.
Trump, who has frequently sparred with the US lawmakers, refused to say who in Israel he had spoken to when asked if he had talked to Prime Minister Netanyahu.
Israel’s Channel 12 news reported late Thursday that Trump and Netanyahu were in contact several times in recent days over the issue. The channel did not cite a source.
In a statement, Netanyahu defended the ban, insisting “there is no country on Earth that respects America and the US Congress more than the state of Israel. Israel is open to all critics and any criticism, with one exception: the law in Israel that prohibits entry to people calling and advocating for boycotting the country, just like in other democracies that bar entry to those who they believe will do harm to their nation.”
US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman earlier backed the Israeli ban and denied that Trump’s pressure had changed Israel’s mind, blaming the shift instead on the lawmakers’ purported refusal to expose themselves to Israel’s perspective on the planned trip.
According to Israel’s Kan public broadcaster, a large part of the trip involved meetings with aid organizations and Palestinian officials to learn about the impact of Trump administration aid cuts in the West Bank and Gaza. The reported itinerary also included visits to the al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, as well as the Western Wall, Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah. No Israeli officials of any government agency or political party are listed.
לו"ז הביקור המתוכנן ("משלחת לפלסטין") של חברות הקונגרס הדמוקרטיות ראשידה טאליב ואילהן עומאר. ישראל כאמור לא מתירה את כניסתן בעקבות לחץ מצד ארה"ב pic.twitter.com/hR9V0aC8xA
— Gili Cohen (@gilicohen10) August 15, 2019
Shortly before the decision was announced, Trump said the congresswomen “hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” He called them “a disgrace,” an insult he has used repeatedly for them.
Trump has spent weeks criticizing the lawmakers, including sending racist tweets urging them and two other minority women lawmakers to “go back” to their purported countries of origin. Three of the four were born in the US.
Israel’s decision to bar the lawmakers was widely criticized by leading lawmakers and several pro-Israel organizations also warned that the move could hurt bipartisan support for Israel in the US and boost support for the BDS boycott movement backed by Tlaib and Omar.
“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution,” pro-Israel lobby AIPAC said on Twitter. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
The Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations said it had discussed reservations about the move with Jerusalem, but also accused Omar and Tlaib of “a lack of interest in dialogue or true fact finding.”
JTA contributed to this report.