On Saturday, Axios reported that President Donald Trump told his advisers he believes that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should bar Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from entering the country. He reportedly said that if they want to boycott Israel, “then Israel should boycott them.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham strongly denied that the president was giving Israel a directive, insisting he was just speaking his personal opinion. “The Israeli government can do what they want,” said Grisham. “It’s fake news.”
Trump’s comments were in reference to Tlaib and Omar’s opposition to a House resolution condemning the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, a worldwide attempt to boycott Israeli businesses to pressure their government to loosen its hardline military policies against Palestine.
The resolution stated that BDS “promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace.” But Tlaib (who is Palestinian-American) and Omar have both expressed support for the movement. Netanyahu’s government passed a law in 2017 that allows Israel to ban entry for people supporting BDS.
Many U.S. states have laws that punish individuals and entities participating in BDS, including counterdivestment from public pension funds or bans from working on state contracts. These laws have raised concerns about freedom of speech.
Trump has singled out Tlaib and Omar for racist attacks, along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), proclaiming that they should “go back” to where they came from. Except for Omar, all of those congresswomen were born in the United States.
Netanyahu is currently presiding over a caretaker government, as his right-wing voting bloc failed to form a majority coalition in the Knesset, or Israeli parliament, after the elections in April. A second round of elections in November will decide the fate of Israel’s government.