Israel said Thursday it will bar two pro-Palestinian Democratic congresswomen from visiting the country, in a move that could strain relations between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Democrats in Washington.
Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan both have been outspoken critics of Israel and President Donald Trump tweeted shortly before the announcement that they should be prohibited from entering he country.
In an apparent reversal of Israel's position to admit all American lawmakers who seek to visit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that the country had decided not to allow Tlaib and Omar to enter. The Muslim American lawmakers had been expected to arrive on Sunday.
"Only a few days ago, we received their visitation plan, and it became clear that they were planning a campaign whose sole purpose was to strengthen the boycott and negate Israel's legitimacy," Netanyahu said, referring to the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, known as BDS.
"For example, they defined their visit destination as 'Palestine' rather than 'Israel,' and unlike all Democratic and Republican congressmen to date, they have avoided seeking any meeting with an official Israeli official in both the government and the opposition," the prime minister added. "A week ago, Israel welcomed some 70 Democratic and Republican congressmen who expressed broad bipartisan support in Israel, expressed just a month ago in overwhelming opposition to the congressional vote against the BDS. By contrast, the two-member congressional visitation plan shows that their intent is to hurt Israel and increase its unrest against it."
Omar and Tlaib have previously voiced their support for BDS; under Israeli law, supporters of the movement can be denied entry to Israel.
Omar has also been accused by House Democratic leaders for promoting "anti-Semitic tropes" and in February she was forced to apologize for controversial tweets about the pro-Israel lobby in the United States.
In one tweet, she said money was driving U.S. lawmakers to defend Israel and that AIPAC — the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee — was paying politicians to support Israel.
Last month, Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer,told the Times of Israel that the country would not block their trip.
"Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel," Dermer told the Israeli newspaper.
Netanyahu held consultations with members of his cabinet Wednesday about the congresswomen's upcoming visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, a government official said in a statement earlier Thursday.
Barring the congresswomen from entering could risk further straining relations between Israel’s right-wing government, which has stressed its close ties with the Trump administration, and Democrats in Congress.
Tlaib, 43, was born in the U.S. but draws her roots from a Palestinian village in the West Bank where her grandmother and extended family still live. The congresswoman said she had hoped to visit her family during the trip.
Trump has repeatedly attacked Tlaib and Omar, including a series of tweets last month in which he said they should "go back" to the "broken" countries they came from. Trump's comments drew sharp criticism from Democrats.
Both are U.S. citizens and are members of the so-called "Squad" of newly elected left-wing Democratic representatives, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.