TEL AVIV – The Israeli government may backtrack on its reported decision to allow Democratic congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to enter the country later this week.
According to diplomatic officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday discussed the matter again with Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, Public Security and Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabat and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that government officials had informed congressional leaders currently visiting Israel that the two would be denied entry over their support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.
Israeli law stipulates that BDS supporters may be denied entry to the country. The Foreign Ministry has the authority to issue waivers in the case of foreign lawmakers or diplomatic figures.
“The possibility exists that Israel will not allow the visit as currently planned,” one official said. “The professional and legal teams in the Prime Minister’s Office continue to study the material.”
The final say lies with the interior minister, the official added.
Interior Minister Deri has in the past been outspoken about barring entry to BDS supporters.
On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 13 reported that Deputy National Security Adviser Reuven Azar said in a secret meeting on the matter that it would be “better if they didn’t visit Israel at all.”
Azar was opposed by several officials, all of whom disagreed and said it would be worse if the two congresswomen were denied entry, the report said.
The meeting was purportedly about how to deal with the possibility that the two Muslim lawmakers will visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during their stay.
According to the report, Azar concluded that Israeli officials should put in every effort to “mitigate damage to relations with the U.S. and the potential media maelstrom.”
It was also decided that if the two choose to visit the Temple Mount compound, Israel Police should not allow them to be accompanied by Palestinian Authority officials, since doing so would suggest implicit endorsement of claims of Palestinian sovereignty over the holy site.
Azar said that while the lawmakers themselves would be allowed into Israel, the members of their delegation would be permitted to enter the country on a “case by case” basis.
On Sunday, reports emerged that President Donald Trump had quietly expressed frustration with Israel’s decision to allow the two women to enter the country.
Trump told senior advisers that “Israel should bar Omar and Tlaib’s entry because the two congresswomen favor a boycott of Israel,” the Axios news site reported.
The Axios report said three U.S. officials confirmed Trump’s remarks and that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office did not deny the account. Two senior Netanyahu aides said the issue was very sensitive and they were not allowed to discuss it.
However, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham on Saturday said the report was “fake news.”
“The Israeli government can do what they want,” she said.
Last month, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said Israel would allow Omar and Tlaib to visit “out of respect for Congress.”
“Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel,” Dermer told the Haaretz daily.
Last month, Omar confirmed that she and Tlaib were planning to visit Israel and the West Bank.
“Everything that I hear points to both sides feeling like there is still an occupation,” Omar told the the Jewish Insider about the trip.
Israel’s Interior and Strategic Affairs Ministries have denied visas to students, activists and artists who have a proven record of publicly calling for the boycott of Israel.