Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel will bar a visit by US Democratic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar after US President Donald Trump called on the Middle Eastern country not to let them in.
The pair are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and are members of the Democratic party’s progressive wing.
They are sharp critics of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians.
Democrats in the US and Palestinians strongly condemned Israel’s decision.
Israel had initially chosen to allow the visit. But on Wednesday Netanyahu held consultations with cabinet members and advisers revisiting the decision.
A source who took part in the consultation told Reuters that Israel backtracked because of pressure from Trump.
“In a discussion held two weeks ago all the officials were in favour of letting them in but after Trump’s pressure they reversed the decision,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Omar said Israel’s decision to block her visit was an “insult to democratic values”.
“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,” Omar said in a statement.
She added the move wasn’t a surprise given Netanyahu “aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump”.
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat and a longtime supporter of Israel, called the snub “beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel”.
Pelosi said Trump’s statements attacking the congresswomen and encouraging Israel to block their planned visit was “a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President”.
Tlaib and Omar have voiced support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Under Israeli law, BDS backers can be denied entry to Israel.
Trump has vented in recent months against Tlaib, Omar and two other Democratic congresswomen, accusing them of hostility to Israel in what has widely been seen as a drumming up of Republican votes for his 2020 re-election bid.
In a tweet on Thursday, he urged Israel not to allow the visit, saying “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit … They are a disgrace!”
Israel’s ambassador in the United States, Ron Dermer, had said last month Tlaib and Omar would be let in, out of respect for the US Congress and the US-Israeli relationship.
The Axios news site reported on Saturday that Trump had told advisers that he believed Netanyahu should use the anti-boycott law to bar Tlaib and Omar. It quoted the White House as saying it was fake news.