The Slatest

Netanyahu Considers Barring Omar and Tlaib From Visiting Israel Ahead of Scheduled Visit

Rep. Ilhan Omar (L) shares a fist bump with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (R) in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (L) shares a fist bump with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (R) in Washington, D.C., April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering barring two Muslim U.S. congresswomen, Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), from visiting Israel over their support for the boycott movement against Israel that criticizes the country’s treatment of Palestinians. The Washington Post reports the two congresswomen, who have been highly critical of Israeli policy in the past, are scheduled to arrive in the country on Sunday for a private visit organized by a nonprofit organization headed by Palestinian lawmaker and peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi. The Israeli government, however, told Democratic leaders this week it would officially announce on Wednesday that Omar and Tlaib would be denied entry visas, but then postponed that decision.

The congresswomen’s visas are in question because of a new Israeli law that disallows foreign nationals who are proponents of the BDS movement—boycott, divestment and sanctions—from receiving entry visas to Israel. Under the recently passed measure, public support for any kind of boycott against Israel or its West Bank settlements is enough to be barred from the country. Despite the law, however, the Israeli government appeared set to allow the lawmakers to visit the country, as Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said last month, “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”

There are conflicting reports about the current state of play in the internal deliberations of the Israeli government with reports that participants at recent interagency meeting concluded allowing the trip to go forward was the best course of action to preserve ties with Washington. It’s unclear what may have shifted, but Axios recently reported that Trump has suggested to advisers that Israel should ban the pair. There’s also the question of the upcoming Sept. 17 election in Israel. After failing to form a government last time around, Netanyahu sent Israelis back to the polls where he is fighting for his political life. To stay in power, the longtime leader needs to solidify his fraying right-wing support base. The ban, despite being favored by Trump, a staunch Netanyahu ally, has elicited a private backlash from the Democratic leadership and some U.S.-based pro-Israel groups, according to the Post.

The trip is reported to run from Aug. 18-22 and will not involve official meetings, but according to the Post, will include stops in the Palestinian cities of Bethlehem, Hebron, and Ramallah, as well as a visit to Jerusalem. Informal meetings are scheduled with Palestinian civil society groups and humanitarian workers, as well as at one of the East Jerusalem hospitals that was impacted by recent cuts in American aid to Palestinians. Rep. Tlaib was also hoping to visit the West Bank village where her grandmother lives.