WASHINGTON (AP) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday slammed Israel's decision to deny admission to two Muslim-American congresswomen, calling the snub "beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel."
Israel announced earlier in the day that it would bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from entering the country ahead of a planned visit over their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement, a decision announced shortly after President Donald Trump tweeted that it would "show great weakness" to allow them in.
Trump also tweeted that "They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds." He went on to call the two congresswomen "a disgrace."
The move to bar the two Democratic congresswomen from visiting appeared to be unprecedented. It marked a deep foray by Israel into America's bitterly polarized politics and a sharp escalation of Israel's campaign against the international boycott movement.
The San Francisco Democrat Pelosi, long a supporter of Israel, also said President Donald Trump's statements attacking the two liberal Democratic representatives and encouraging Israel to block their planned visit is "a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President."
Tlaib and Omar are critics of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, and many Republicans say Omar's past rhetoric is anti-Semitic.
Pelosi noted that Israel's ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, recently said that Israel would not deny any members of Congress from entering the country. She called the reversal "sad" and "deeply disappointing."
The two congresswomen had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour organized by a Palestinian organization aimed at highlighting the plight of the Palestinians. It was not immediately clear if they had planned to meet with Israeli officials, and spokespeople for the two congresswomen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is "open to critics and criticism," except for those who advocate boycotts against it.
"Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress," Netanyahu charged. He said their itinerary "revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel's legitimacy."
Omar denounced the decision as "an affront" and "an insult to democratic values."
"This is not a surprise 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," Omar said in a statement.
The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, endorsed the decision after it was made, saying Israel "has every right to protect its borders" against promoters of boycotts "in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons."
Trump's decision to urge a foreign country to deny entry to elected U.S. officials was a striking departure from the long-held practice of politicians from both parties of leaving their disputes at the water's edge.
Other Democratic lawmakers in the U.S. Congress also denounced Israel's decision.
Top ranking Senate Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York said it was a sign of weakness instead of strength and "will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America." A close freshman colleague of the two lawmakers, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, said Israel's move is "bigoted, short sighted and cruel."
The interior ministry said in statement Thursday that "the state of Israel respects the American Congress, in the framework of the close alliance between the two countries, but it's unacceptable to allow the entrance to the country of those who wish to harm the state of Israel, especially during their visit."
Israel said it would consider any request from Tlaib to visit relatives on humanitarian grounds.
Supporters of the boycott movement say it is a non-violent way to protest Israeli policies and call for Palestinian rights. Critics say the boycott movement aims to delegitimize Israel and ultimately erase it from the map, replacing it with a binational state.
© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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