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Israel Blocks Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib From Visiting


Israel says it will bar two U.S. members of Congress from entering the country. Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have been outspoken in their criticism of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians. They were planning a visit to the region this weekend, but President Trump encouraged Israel to ban them. Let's go to Jerusalem now and NPR's Daniel Estrin. Hi, Daniel.


GREENE: So what is Israel doing here and why?

ESTRIN: Well, Israel put out a statement and said that there is a decision by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and other top officials to not allow Representatives Omar and Tlaib to come to the country. And they say that these congresswomen would have taken advantage of their visit to support a boycott of Israel. Now, there is a relatively new law on the books in Israel for the last few years to - that gives Israel the right not to allow people who are actively supporting a global movement called the BDS - the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement - to boycott Israel.

Now, Representatives Tlaib and Omar say we do believe that Americans have the right to boycott Israel. And Israel is saying that they do respect the Congress but that they will not allow this to happen.

GREENE: Is there any precedent for this? I mean, you said there's this law on the books. But has Israel ever banned the elected representatives from other countries to come?

ESTRIN: You know, it is highly unusual. Israeli officials I spoke to couldn't recall Israel ever banning Congress members. But in 2017, Israel did ban a group of European Union Parliament members and French politicians, and they were accused of supporting a boycott. And, you know, actually, Israel originally said that it would let the congresswomen come to Israel out of respect for Congress.

Apparently what changed things here was President Trump. He tweeted today that the congresswomen in question hate all Jewish people and that Israel would show weakness if it let them in.

GREENE: Well, what is the reaction to that and to this decision from people who support Representatives Tlaib and Omar?

ESTRIN: Well, the Palestinian group that was sponsoring their visit and hosting them said it was an affront to the American people and to their representatives, an assault on the Palestinian people's right to reach out to decision-makers and others around the world. And this group is accusing Israel of imposing a blackout on the reality of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

So far I haven't heard any response from the congresswomen themselves, but some Israeli lawmakers who are rivals of Prime Minister Netanyahu are opposing the move, and they say it's counterproductive. Actually, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren also says Israel, quote, "doesn't advance its case as a tolerant democracy or as a U.S. ally with this decision."

GREENE: All right. We'll be watching for the story to develop and for reaction from the two members of Congress NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem for us. Daniel, thanks so much. We really appreciate it.

ESTRIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.