Israel Bars Entry by Two American Congresswomen

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15 August, 2019

Israel announced Thursday that it will bar American congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering the country. The Democratic Party lawmakers had plans to visit Israel next week.

Israeli officials say the ban was ordered because Tlaib and Omar support a Palestinian-led boycott movement.

In this July 15, 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, right, speaks, as U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib listens, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
In this July 15, 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, right, speaks, as U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib listens, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

A few hours earlier, American President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that Israel would "show great weakness" if it permitted the lawmakers into the country. The president wrote that Tlaib and Omar "hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds."

Tlaib and Omar are serving their first terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both are also Muslim. Tlaib represents a district in Michigan, while Omar is a representative from Minnesota.

Both had planned to visit Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. They were to take part in a tour organized by a Palestinian organization. The tour's aim is to show the struggle of the Palestinians.

The two lawmakers have criticized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. They have expressed support for the BDS movement, which calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions. Last month, they were among a small group of representatives that voted in support of a measure that would make it U.S. policy to boycott Israel. The measure was defeated.

Israeli law permits a ban on entry to any activist who "knowingly issues a call for boycotting Israel."

On Thursday, Israel's interior minister said in a statement, "The state of Israel respects the American Congress, in the framework of the close alliance between the two countries, but it's unacceptable to allow the entrance to the country of those who wish harm to the state of Israel, especially during their visit."

The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, expressed support for the decision. He said Israel "has every right to protect its borders" against supporters of a boycott, "in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons."

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is "open to critics and criticism," except for those who advocate boycotts against it.

Netanyahu also said Tlaib and Omar's visit was meant to "strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel's legitimacy."

On Twitter, Congresswoman Tlaib called the Israeli decision "sign of weakness because the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening."

Congresswoman Omar released a statement calling the ban "an insult to democratic values."

Israel often hosts groups of American lawmakers. They usually meet with senior Israeli officials as well as Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank. Israel controls entry and exit points to the West Bank. It seized the territory along with Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians seek these territories for a future state.

Dan Shapiro was the U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Barack Obama. He said he knew of "no such precedent" for Israel barring an elected American official from entering the country. He called the decision "shortsighted."

MIFTAH is the Palestinian organization that had planned to host Tlaib and Omar in the West Bank. In a statement, it called Israel's decision "an affront to the American people and their representatives" and "an assault on the Palestinian people's right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world."

The pro-Israeli U.S. lobbying group American Israel Public Affairs Committee also criticized Israel's action. An AIPAC statement said the group believes "every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."

Tlaib and Omar have been the target of repeated attacks by Trump in recent months. In July, the president published a series of Twitter messages in which he said they should "go back" to the "broken" countries they came from.

Both are U.S. citizens. Omar was born in the Somalia. Tlaib was born in the United States.

Tlaib has close family members in the West Bank. Israel said it would consider a request from Tlaib to visit her relatives on humanitarian grounds.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

And I'm Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

tour - n. a journey for business, pleasure, or education often involving a series of stops and ending at the starting point

divestment - n. the act of depriving or dispossessing especially of property, authority, or title

sanction - n. an action that is taken or an order that is given to force a country to obey international laws by limiting or stopping trade with that country, by not permitting economic aid for that country, etc.

framework - n. the basic structure of something: a set of ideas or facts that provide support for something

allow - v. to permit

conventional - adj. common and ordinary: not unusual

legitimacy - n. in accordance with law or with established legal forms and requirements

host - v. to receive or entertain guests socially, commercially or officially

precedent - n. something done or said that can be used as an example or rule to be followed in the future

shortsighted - adj. made or done without thinking about what will happen in the future

affront - n. to cause offense to

assault - n. a concerted effort; an attack

lobby - n. an organized group of people who work together to influence government decisions that relate to a particular industry, issue, etc.