Netanyahu defends decision to bar Tlaib, Omar entry to Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE on Thursday defended his country's decision to deny Reps. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Biden endorsed by former Connecticut senator, 51 Massachusetts leaders Ocasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' MORE (D-Mich.) and Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarSanders seeks spark from Ocasio-Cortez at Queens rally Biden endorsed by former Connecticut senator, 51 Massachusetts leaders Omar calls Trump hosting G-7 at Doral 'disturbing' MORE (D-Minn.) entry into the country because of past comments about the territory.

“As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception: Israel’s law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel, as is the case with other democracies that prevent the entry of people whose perception harms the country," he said in a statement posted to his official Facebook page.

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"Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the US Congress.

“The two-member congressional visitation plan shows that their intent is to hurt Israel and increase its unrest against it,” he added, citing the fact that two lawmakers called their visit destination Palestine rather than Israel.

Netanyahu noted that Tlaib may be granted entry into the territory to visit her Palestinian grandmother in the West Bank.

"However, if Congresswoman Tlaib filed a humanitarian request to meet her family members, subject to a commitment that she would not act to promote the boycotts against Israel, the interior minister announced he would consider this request," he said in the statement.

The decision to block the first two Muslim women elected to Congress was announced moments after President Trump tweeted that it would show "great weakness" for Israel to allow the pair into the country, calling them a “disgrace.”

Encouraging a foreign ally to deny entry to two elected U.S. officials marked a significant escalation from his past criticism of the two progressive lawmakers — and break with diplomatic norms.

It's unclear whether the decision by Israeli officials was affected by Trump’s tweet. News of the decision came roughly an hour after Trump tweeted.

Tlaib and Omar have been vocal advocates of Palestinian rights and backed the movement to boycott Israel. They were both among the 16 Democrats to vote against a bill to oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement in July. The legislation passed the House easily.

Netanyahu praised the passage of that bill at the time, saying “it is right and it is helpful.”

The BDS movement is focused on pressing Israel on human rights issues in its conflict with Palestinians.

The two were scheduled to visit between Aug. 18-22 and planned to visit the site in Jerusalem known as the Temple Mount to Jewish people and as the Haram al-Sharif to Muslims.

The decision to block the first-year lawmakers has been met with near universal condemnation from party leaders on both sides of the aisle, despite Trump calling for the move.