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  • The Associated Press

Israel bars entry to US Congresswomen targeted by racist Trump tweets

Israel has barred two U.S. Congresswomen from entering the country on a planned visit because of their support for a Palestinian-led boycott movement.

The move to prohibit Democrat Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota appeared to be unprecedented and followed public pressure from President Donald Trump who tweeted that it would "show great weakness" to allow them in.

It marked a deep foray by Israel into America's bitterly polarised politics and a sharp escalation of Israel's campaign against the international boycott movement.

The two Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and have repeatedly clashed with Trump. Tlaib's family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank, where she still has close relatives.

They had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour organised by a Palestinian organization aimed at highlighting the plight of the Palestinians.

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."

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.

Israel has sought to combat the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, universities and cultural institutions. The country passed a law permitting a ban on entry to any activist who "knowingly issues a call for boycotting Israel."

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