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Ilhan Omar: Israel's entry ban is 'an insult to democratic values'

Omar and fellow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib had planned tour of occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem this weekend
Rashida Tlaib (L) and Ilhan Omar are supporters of pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (AFP)

Ilhan Omar decried Israel's decision to bar her and fellow US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib from entering the occupied Palestinian territories, a move the Minnesota representative said is "an insult to democratic values".

In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Omar said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to ban the two congresswomen was made "under pressure" from US President Donald Trump.

"It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the US government," Omar said.

"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."

Tlaib also slammed the Israeli government's move in a post on Twitter in which she shared a photograph of her Palestinian grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank.

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"She deserves to live in peace & with human dignity. I am who I am because of her," tweeted Tlaib, who was born in the US to Palestinian parents and still has family in Palestine.

"The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a US Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening."

Earlier in the day, the Israeli government said it planned to bar Omar and Tlaib from entering the occupied Palestinian territories this weekend.

The confirmation came hours after prominent Israeli journalist Dana Weiss tweeted that the government had decided to ban the two lawmakers over their "suspected provocations and promotion" of the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Before the Israeli government's statement, Trump tweeted his support for barring entry to the two US representatives.

Israeli law permits banning BDS supporters from entering the country.

Both Tlaib and Omar have been vocal proponents of the movement, which seeks to pressure Israel to end its human rights abuses against Palestinians, leading to a backlash by pro-Israel lobby groups.

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday that the country's ministry of interior had decided not to allow Tlaib and Omar to enter - a move he said he supported. 

"No country in the world respects America and the American Congress more than the State of Israel," Netanyahu said in a statement shared by the Israeli foreign affairs ministry.

"However, the itinerary of the two congresswomen reveals that the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it."

Still, Netanyahu said Israel would consider letting Tlaib visit her family on humanitarian grounds if she submits such a request.

"If Congresswoman Tlaib submits a humanitarian request to visit her relatives, the minister of interior has announced that he will consider her request on the condition that she pledges not to act to promote boycotts against Israel during her visit," the Israeli premier said.

'Entirely predictable'

Tlaib and Omar had been planning to tour the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem in a visit set to begin over the weekend.

The tour, according to Israeli diplomatic sources that spoke to local reporters, was to include a visit to Al-Aqsa compound, a holy site for both Muslims and Jews, which has witnessed violent clashes over the past week.

Last month, Israel's ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer said that he believed Israel would not deny entry to any US lawmakers "out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America".

But  before the ban was confirmed, Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said barring Tlaib and Omar from entering the country was outrageous "but also entirely predictable".

"Israel has been discriminating against US citizens-especially Palestinian Americans- for a long time. Now they are even doing this to our ELECTED REPRESENTATIVES," Munayyer wrote on Twitter on Thursday.

"In truth, Israel's racist discrimination against Palestinians isn't new and Palestinians are constantly denied return to and freedom of movement in their homeland. But this episode underscores the extent of Congress' complicity in enabling racism now targeting their own colleagues," he added.

Several Palestinian advocates, as well as some Democratic members of Congress, voiced their concern on Thursday over Israel's decision to ban the sitting lawmakers from entering the country.

MIFTAH, the US-based Palestinian advocacy group that organised the trip Tlaib and Omar planned to join, condemned the ban as "an affront to the American people and their representatives".

'Like the United States, Israel is a nation of laws. We support Israel's application of its laws in this case'

- David Friedman, US ambassador to Israel

"Like all prolific human rights abusers, Israel wants to impose a blackout on the reality in occupied Palestine and prevent Congresswomen Tlaib [and] Omar from having direct contact with the Palestinian people, who are subject to Israel's cruel regime of colonisation, oppression, and land grab," the group said in a statement.

But David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel and a staunch backer of the Israeli government and its settlement project, said the Trump administration backs Israel's decision to bar the congresswomen.

He singled out the lawmakers' support for BDS as the driving force behind the ban.

"This trip, pure and simple, is nothing more than an effort to fuel the BDS engine that Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar so vigorously support," Friedman said in a statement shared on Twitter.

"Like the United States, Israel is a nation of laws. We support Israel's application of its laws in this case."

Implementing Trump's 'Muslim ban'

Tlaib, 43, was born in the US, but her grandmother and extended family live in the Palestinian village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa in the West Bank.

Somali-born Omar, 37, has been an outspoken critic of the criminalisation of the BDS movement in the US.

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Tlaib and Omar made history last year when they became the first Muslim women ever elected to Congress.

In her statement, Omar said that by banning her and Tlaib, Israel was implementing the Trump administration's so-called "Muslim ban".

The presidential order bars citizens of several Muslim-majority countries from entering the US, and it has drawn widespread criticism from rights groups and lawmakers who accused the president of Islamophobia.

"Trump's Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress," Omar said.

She added that the ban was not surprising, "given the public positions of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Islamophobes like Donald Trump".

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