Aug. 15 (UPI) -- The Israeli government stirred significant controversy on Thursday with a decision to bar entry for two Muslim U.S. lawmakers -- a move hailed by President Donald Trump and reviled by top Democrats and advocacy groups.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the ban to keep House Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan out of Israel. He and Trump have criticized the lawmakers for taking pro-Palestinian positions and supporting boycotts, divestment and sanctions targeting Israel. Tlaib is a Palestinian-American.
"The decision has been made; the decision is not to allow them to enter," Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said.
Trump, who has been at odds with both lawmakers, said earlier Thursday he supports a ban.
"It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit," Trump tweeted. "They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace."
Omar and Tlaib had been scheduled to travel to Israel on Sunday, a trip that had included a visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is known as the Harem al-Sharif to Muslims. Last month, the Israeli government signaled they would be able to visit, "out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America."
The decision and Trump's lobby efforts drew terse criticisms.
"Any sitting member of Congress should be welcome to visit Israel as official representatives of Israel's closest ally and most critical source of international support," the Israel Policy Forum said. "We strongly urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to reconsider."
Jewish advocacy group J Street called the move "dangerous, unacceptable and wrong."
"We may disagree with the views that the members hold ... but the right approach for a state that values democracy is to welcome criticism and debate, not to shut it down," J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said.
"Israel doesn't advance its case as a tolerant democracy or unwavering U.S. ally by barring elected members of Congress," Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren added. "This would be a shameful, unprecedented move."
"Banning Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel and Palestine is a sign of enormous disrespect to these elected leaders, to the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy," Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted.