US Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have been banned from entering Israel.
According to reports from Israel's Channel 12, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri decided to ban the Michigan and Minnesota congresswomen from going ahead with a trip to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, which was slated to take place this weekend.
The decision comes after weeks of speculation over whether the pair would be banned from entering Israel under the country's 2017 anti-BDS law, which bans supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering the country.
Both Omar and Tlaib have repeatedly advocated for US citizens' "right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights", introducing a resolution to the US' House Judiciary Committee to this effect in July. Though the resolution did not mention Israel or BDS by name, the initiative was seen as an attempt to counter efforts by multiple US states to ban support for the movement.
The congresswomen have also regularly criticised the Israeli government for its continued occupation of the Palestinian territories and called for "justice" and "lasting peace" in the besieged Gaza Strip.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long been mulling whether to ban the duo for their outspoken positions.
The prime minister yesterday held consultations with some of the country's most senior officials – including Deri, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, Strategic Affairs and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit – to debate their entry.
However, a senior Israeli official familiar with yesterday's deliberations told Haaretz that the meeting had not resulted in a final decision on the visit. The official added that Netanyahu was weighing denying a political visit by the pair, but may allow Tlaib — who has family in the occupied West Bank – to enter in order to see her relatives there.
As interior minister, Deri ultimately has final say on whether Tlaib and Omar can enter the country.
Today's shock decision reneges on previous assurances given by Israel's Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, that Tlaib and Omar would not be prevented from entering "out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America".
However, Netanyahu has since seemingly come under pressure from the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has reportedly pushed its regional ally not to allow the trip to go ahead.
Earlier this week, US news site Axios revealed that President Trump told his advisers he thought Netanyahu should use Israel's anti-BDS law to prevent Tlaib and Omar entering the country, saying that "if [they] want to boycott Israel then Israel should boycott them".
Trump subsequently denied leaning on Israel, with White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham dismissing the Axios report as "fake news". "The Israeli government can do what they want," Grisham added.
The president is an ardent critic of Omar and Tlaib; last month he launched a virulent attack on Omar and other congresswomen of colour – known as "the Squad" – telling them to "go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came". Trump also demanded that they "apologise" to Israel for the "terrible things they have said".
The hashtag #IStandWithIlhan was subsequently trending on social media with politicians, journalists and celebrities expressing their support of the lawmaker.