WASHINGTON (CBS/AP) – Rep. Ayanna Pressley is defending two members of the “squad” whom Israel said Thursday would be banned from entering the country. She criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for siding with President Donald Trump and deciding that Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will not be allowed in.

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.”

Earlier in the day Trump tweeted that “it would show great weakness” if Israel allowed them to visit. “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.”

Pressley is part of the “The Squad” that includes Tlaib, Omar and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

“When you attack one of us, you attack all of us,” she said in a statement. “Netanyahu is stoking division and punishing dissent just like the occupant of the White House.”

Pressley went on to say that Omar and Tlaib “have been subject to some of the most vile and vicious attacks simply for being who they are.”

“We should reevaluate our relationships with any country who seeks to ban Americans and threatens the safety of anyone, including government officials,” Pressley said.

Before Israel made its decision official, Massachusetts senator and presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted that it would be a “shameful, unprecedented move” to bar Tlaib and Omar from visiting.

The two newly-elected Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and have repeatedly sparred with Trump over a range of issues. Tlaib’s family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank, where she still has close relatives. Israel said it would consider any request from Tlaib to visit relatives on humanitarian grounds.

They 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.

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.

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.”

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.”

Last month, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer had said Israel would not deny entry to any member of Congress.

Supporters of the boycott movement say it is a non-violent way to protest Israeli policies and call for Palestinian rights. Critics say the movement aims to delegitimize Israel and ultimately erase it from the map, replacing it with a binational state.

Israel often hosts delegations of U.S. representatives and senators, who usually meet with senior Israeli officials as well as Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank.

MIFTAH, the Palestinian organization that was set to host Tlaib and Omar in the West Bank, issued a statement saying that Israel’s decision was “an affront to the American people and their representatives” and “an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world.”

 

(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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