Israel bars US congresswomen

JERUSALEM (AP) — With a push from President Donald Trump, Israel on Thursday barred two Muslim-American congresswomen from entering the country for a visit, an extraordinary step bringing the longtime U.S. ally into Trump’s domestic fight against political rivals at home.

The U.S. president is essentially relying on Israel to retaliate against two freshman lawmakers, Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who are both outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. They are also part of the “squad” of liberal newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for reelection.

It’s a glaring departure from the tradition of American politicians leaving domestic disputes at the water’s edge.

For Israel, the willingness to side so pointedly with Trump marks a deeper foray into America’s bitterly polarized politics and risks its relationship with Congress. Blocking the visits of two lawmakers appears to be unprecedented.

Israel announced the ban shortly after Trump tweeted that “it would show great weakness” if the two were allowed to visit. Asked later if he had spoken to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, “I did talk to people over there,” but he declined to say to whom.

In Israel, Netanyahu said his country remains “open to critics and criticism,” except for those who advocate boycotts against it. The congresswomen support a Palestinian-led boycott and divestment movement.

Netanyahu said Tlaib and Omar were leaders in promoting boycott legislation and their itinerary “revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”

Democrats in Congress denounced his move as a reversal of previous assurances by the Israeli ambassador to the United States that, “out of respect for the U.S. Congress,” no lawmakers would be denied entry.