22:02 GMT +317 October 2019
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    In this 15 July 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, right, speaks, as U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. listens, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington.

    Israeli Envoy Denies ‘Playing to Trump’s Tune’ After Reps. Tlaib, Omar Denied Entry Over BDS Support

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    Israel on Thursday announced its decision to block a planned visit by Democratic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – vocal supporters of the international pro-Palestinian movement BDS – after President Donald Trump said the Jewish State would be showing "great weakness" by allowing them in.

    Israel’s envoy to the United States has reassured that Donald Trump’s pressure wasn’t behind the decision to bar US representatives Tlaib and Omar from entering the country.

    Speaking in a conference call with US-based Jewish groups, Ambassador Ron Dermer said that Israel had made a sovereign move.

    “We were not pressured by the Trump administration to do this and this is a sovereign decision that Israel has to make,” Dermer said on Thursday in a call organised by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations.

    “This is the sovereign Israeli government’s decision to make, but as friends of Israel and the US-Israel relationship, we offered our perspective that reversing the earlier decision and barring entry to these two members of Congress could be even more costly than letting them in to do whatever shenanigans and stunts they were planning to do while there,” he said, as quoted by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

    Last month, the ambassador promised that Israel would not deny entry to any US lawmaker “out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America”.

    However, the Israeli government went ahead with the ban on Thursday, following discussions between Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior government officials.

    What Has Motivated the Ban?

    Incidentally, the move was announced the same day Donald Trump, who has repeatedly accused Tlaib and Omar of “hatred” toward the Jewish State, said that allowing them entry would “show great weakness”.

    Omar was quick to accuse Israel of caving in to pressure from Trump.

    But Dermer explained that the two Muslim congresswomen were barred from visiting due to their support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

    Under a 2017 law, the government can prevent any foreigner who makes a “public call for boycotting Israel” or “any area under its control” from entering Israel.

    According to Dermer, this was the case with the two US lawmakers. He stated that their itinerary listed the destination as the Palestinian Territories, not Israel, and no meetings were scheduled with Israeli officials.

    Benjamin Netanyahu cited the law when commenting on the decision on Thursday, describing Tlaib and Omar as “leading activists in promoting legislation to boycott Israel in the US Congress.”

    Dermer claimed that Tlaib and Omar planned to meet with organisations promoting BDS, and that the leader of one such group had indirect ties with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, an anti-Israel NGO blacklisted as a terror group in the United States.

     

    “Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are Hamas-supporting political warfare advocates whose backing for the anti-Semitic global BDS crusade underscores their desire to dismantle Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” said Dan Diker, who heads the Programme to Counter Political Warfare and BDS at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

    He recalled that Tlaib and Omar refused to join the 41 Democratic members of Congress who last week went on an Israel trip sponsored by the AIPAC, and claimed that they instead sought transit to the West Bank and Gaza “as an additional act of political warfare”.

    What Was the Reaction in the US?

    Israel’s decision was condemned by Democratic lawmakers, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chick Schumer, as well as prominent pro-Israel lobbying groups.

    The American Israel Public Affairs Committee – the largest such group in the United States which has been criticised by Omar for allegedly bribing legislators to vote for pro-Israel policies – said that while it disagreed with Omar and Tlaib, it believed that every member of Congress should be able to visit Israel.

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