Reps. Ilhan Omar (L) and Rashida Tlaib. Photos: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images; Win McNamee/Getty Images
Following pressure from President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has backtracked on his decision to allow Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to enter the country and is now barring the congresswomen over their support for the BDS movement.
The latest: Netanyahu issued a statement stressing that Omar and Tlaib were planning a trip whose "sole purpose is to strengthen the boycott and delegitimize Israel." Netanyahu said the congresswomen designated their trip as a visit to Palestine and not to Israel, and they did not ask to meet any Israeli official or member of the opposition. "Omar and Tlaib’s visit plan showed they only wanted to harm Israel," Netanyahu said.
Why it matters: Netanyahu's reversal creates an unprecedented moment — an ally of the United States has banned two duly elected members of Congress from entering its country. It could cause a huge crisis with the Democratic Party and damage the U.S.-Israel relationship.
The big picture: Axios' Jonathan Swan and I reported this weekend that Trump was unhappy with Netanyahu’s decision to allow Omar and Tlaib into the country, telling his advisers that Israel should bar the congresswomen. On Thursday, he tweeted that it would show "great weakness" if Israel allowed them in, claiming that the lawmakers "hate Israel and all Jewish people."
Yesterday, I reported that Israel was concerned Omar and Tlaib would try to visit Jerusalem's Temple Mount — the most important holy site for Jews and third-most important for Muslims around the world — with Palestinian officials.
- Netanyahu had cited his respect for Congress in his decision several weeks ago to allow Omar and Tlaib to enter. In addition, Tlaib has family in the West Bank and is the daughter of Palestinian immigrants.
- The pair of congresswomen were expected to arrive in Israel on Friday.
- Some of the latest details of this saga were first reported by the Washington Post.
Behind the scenes: Israeli officials told me that in the last 48 hours there has been a shift in Netanyahu’s position on the issue due to messages he received from the White House. Netanyahu’s national security adviser has asked different government agencies f0r their opinion on whether Omar and Tlaib should enter. That request was strange because the relevant government agencies already said last week they supported letting them in.
- The officials told me Netanyahu was leaning Wednesday toward barring Omar and Tlaib — and the Israeli Embassy in Washington had started notifying senior House Democrats, causing counter-pressure from Democrats who warned Israeli officials that such a decision will create a deep crisis with the party.
According to Israeli officials, Netanyahu was trying to find a solution that would address the pressure from the White House but not totally bar Omar and Tlaib.
- As of 5am ET, no decision had been made. One of the possibilities floated would be allowing the congresswomen to enter Israel but limiting their movements only to the Palestinian Authority.
- Another option was to allow them in on humanitarian grounds. An Israeli official told me that if Tlaib filed a humanitarian request to visit her relatives, the Israeli government will consider it favorably.
What they're saying: The Israeli government's decision has prompted swift condemnation from Democrats and Palestinian leadership.
- PLO official Hanan Ashrawi: "The Israeli decision to ban Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Palestine is an outrageous act of hostility against the American people and their representatives. This is a dangerous precedent that defies all diplomatic norms and an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to engage with the rest of the world."
- Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.): "Banning Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel and Palestine is a sign of enormous disrespect to these elected leaders, to the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy. The Israeli government should reverse this decision and allow them in."
- House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler: "I strongly condemn this decision by the Israeli government, which undermines the ability for our two allied countries to have the frank, open and, at times, difficult discussions that we must have in order to ensure Israel remains a secure and democratic nation."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to show that Israel followed through on its decision to bar Omar and Tlaib.