Updated Aug. 15, 1:40PM
WASHINGTON - Israel barred two U.S. lawmakers from entering the country Thursday, setting off a new round of controversy in the debate over U.S. support for its ally in the Middle East.
Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have been vocal critics of Israel and its treatment of Palestinians. They were set to visit Israel and several cities in the West Bank in the coming days. Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told public broadcaster Kan, "We won't allow those who deny our right to exist in this world to enter Israel. In principle this is a very justified decision."
U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted shortly before the announcement, writing, "It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds."
Omar and Tlaib's frequent criticism of Israel has drawn accusations of anti-Semitism for months. Omar was condemned by the congressional leadership in her own party for invoking an offensive trope about Jews and money in social media postings earlier this year.
Omar and the Palestinian-American Tlaib are supporters of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), a boycott movement that seeks to economically pressure Israel into ending its occupation of the West Bank, among other goals. Some advocates of BDS support a single-state solution that critics say would lead to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Dan Shapiro, the U.S. ambassador to Israel during the Obama administration, wrote that Israel's reversal would have the unintentional effect of boosting the boycott.
"Original Israeli decision to allow Tlaib/Omar visit was wise. Reversal makes little sense. I disagree with their stands on Israel, have criticized them. But zero harm in letting them come learn, see (even if they had an agenda). Reversal harms Israel's standing in US, boosts BDS," Shapiro tweeted Thursday.
The freshman members of Congress have repeatedly presented a challenge for the House Democratic leadership, as their outspoken statements on U.S. policy in the Middle East have drawn the attention of President Trump.
Omar and Tlaib were two of the four House Democratic freshman members of color whom President Trump has said should "go back" to their home countries. Omar - a naturalized U.S. citizen from Somalia - is the only one of the four who was born outside the United States. The president's supporters chanted, "Send her back" after Trump mentioned the congresswoman at a rally earlier this year. The president later said he did not like those chants.
Israel's decision to bar lawmakers based on their policy views has already sparked criticism about the need for independence.
Rep. David Ciccilline, who chairs the House Democrats' communications arm, criticized Israel's decision to ban the members. In a tweet, he said, "This is a grave mistake by the Israeli government. Democracy is about accepting that others don't always share your views and respecting the right to disagree."
Rep. Justin Amash - a former House Republican who left the party over differences with President Trump - called for Omar and Tlaib to be allowed into Israel, tweeting, "Israel should stand up to President Trump and allow our colleagues to visit. Nobody has to agree with their opinions, but it will inevitably harm U.S.-Israel relations if members of Congress are banned from the country. We must find ways to come together; there's enough division."
Earlier this month, congressional leaders from both parties said they were comfortable with lawmakers with differing views entering Israel.
"I feel very secure in this, that anyone who comes with open ears, open eyes and an open mind will walk away with an understanding, just as all these members here do, that this bond is unbreakable," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in a press conference during a congressional delegation visit to Israel.
The Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution in July condemning the BDS movement. Both Omar and Tlaib voted against that resolution.