Left: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI); Center: Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN); Right: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
Israel bars Reps. Tlaib and Omar from visiting the country
02:34 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The two Democratic congresswomen who have been denied entry into Israel responded to the decision by sharply criticizing the Israeli government for preventing their tour.

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota on Thursday called the decision “an affront” and “an insult to democratic values.”

Israel had announced earlier in the day that it would bar the entry of the two US congresswomen – Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – after President Donald Trump encouraged the move, a remarkable step both by the US President and his ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to punish political opponents of the US President.

Tlaib responded by tweeting a photo of her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta.

“This woman right here is my sity. She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her. The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”

In a statement reacting to the news, Omar criticized the Prime Minister as well as Trump, saying, “It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government. Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress.”

Omar went on to say, “As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it is my job to conduct oversight of foreign aid from the United States of America and to legislate on human rights practices around the world. The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told CNN on Thursday of Israel’s decision to ban Tlaib and Omar from entering the country. The announcement came shortly after Trump said Israel would be showing “great weakness” by allowing them to enter the country.

“The plan of the two Congresswomen is only to damage Israel and to foment against Israel,” Netanyahu said in a statement following the decision.

Omar and Tlaib, the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, have changed the conversation on Capitol Hill over the United States’ long-standing relationship with Israel by speaking out critically against the Israeli government over its treatment of Palestinians. In the process, they have faced intense scrutiny and criticism, from Republicans as well as Democrats.

Top congressional Democrats condemned the decision to bar the two congresswomen entry to Israel on Thursday.

“Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said. “The President’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York called the decision a “sign of weakness, not strength,” and said, “It will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America. … Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”

House Democratic leaders were informed by Israeli government officials on Wednesday that the congresswomen would likely be denied entry, according to a House lawmaker with direct knowledge of the discussions.

That led to calls from several House Democrats, who are close allies with Israel, to Ambassador Ron Dermer and even to Netanyahu in an effort to get the decision reversed. Among the lawmakers who spoke to Dermer were House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, both of New York, the lawmaker said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland, considered one of Israel’s closest allies in the Democratic caucus and the co-lead of a bipartisan delegation of more than 70 lawmakers to the country just last week, spoke to Netanyahu and urged him to allow Tlaib and Omar to make the trip.

“I call on the Prime Minster to reconsider this decision and ensure that all Members of Congress who wish to visit Israel and/or the West Bank will be received with the proper respect and recognition they are due,” Hoyer said in a statement Thursday.

Part of the argument made, the lawmaker said, was that barring entry for the two House Democrats would actually bolster the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and further push relations with Israel into a more partisan realm, a potential danger for a country that has long had exceedingly strong support from both parties on Capitol Hill. It’s a message Engel conveyed in his statement criticizing the decision.

“This decision will only strengthen the anti-Israel movements and arguments many of us find so troubling, further politicize support for Israel in the United States, and ultimately play right into the hands of Israel’s enemies,” Engel said. “If my two colleagues had seen what I’ve seen over the years, I believe they would have come away with valuable new perspectives. Now they won’t have that opportunity, and it’s a real shame.”

CNN’s Oren Liebermann, Abeer Salam and Michael Schwartz contributed to this report.