WASHINGTON — US President Donald Trump has reportedly criticized an Israeli decision to allow two BDS-supporting members of Congress from entering Israel later this month, Channel 13 and the Axios news site reported Saturday.
Last month 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. Omar and Tlaib are the first female Muslim congresswomen. Both back the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
Trump said that if Omar and Tlaib wanted to boycott Israel, “then Israel should boycott them,” Axios said, quoting a source with direct knowledge.
Axios said three officials confirmed the report and Trump’s views had been transmitted to top-level Israeli officials.
However, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham denied Trump ever gave any kind of directive to the Israelis. “The Israeli government can do what they want. It’s fake news,” Grisham told Axios on Saturday.
According to the report, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office did not deny this account, but refrained from commenting. Two senior Netanyahu aides said the issue was very sensitive and they were not allowed to discuss it, Axios said.
Omar and Tlaib’s offices did not respond to requests for comment. They are expected to visit August 18.
Last month Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said Israel would not prevent them from entering.
“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.”
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.
The two lawmakers’ visit comes after 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 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.
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.