Israel’s decision on Thursday to bar two American Democratic congresswomen, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, from visiting the country rests on a law passed just two years ago. Aimed at Israel’s critics, the law has been used to deny entry to outspoken foreign supporters of a global movement to boycott the country, which has significant support in Europe as well as the United States.
The announcement came hours after President Trump had encouraged Israel to deny the congresswomen entry, an extraordinary attempt to influence an ally and punish his domestic political opponents. In a statement, Ms. Omar called Israel’s decision an “insult to democratic values.”
On Friday, Israel partly changed course and said Representative Tlaib could enter on humanitarian grounds to see her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank.
Here’s some background on the Israeli law used to initially bar the two congresswomen and how it has been implemented.
The anti-boycott law
Passed in 2017, the law was aimed at outspoken supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement who encourage individuals and institutions to work to pressure Israel to end the occupation of much of the West Bank, grant full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel and allow Palestinians and their descendants in the diaspora to return to the homes from which they were displaced after the establishment of Israel in 1948.
The vote, which came at a time when the Israeli right was feeling emboldened by the election of Mr. Trump, received little initial notice in Israel. But it quickly drew criticism in the United States from the nation’s supporters and critics alike, who argued that it was anti-democratic and would further isolate Israel.
Bezalel Smotrich, the far-right minister of transportation and a co-sponsor of the bill, defended it at the time. “Preventing B.D.S. supporters who come here to hurt us from the inside is the very least we should be doing against haters of Israel,” he said.
The two congresswomen subject to Thursday’s announcement are the first Muslim women elected to Congress and are both outspoken in their support of Palestinians and the boycott movement, which the Democrat-majority United States House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to condemn last month.
Who has been barred?
According to Ben Moore, a spokesman for the Israeli Strategic Affairs Ministry, which is charged with countering the boycott movement, 14 people have been denied entry under the law.
Thursday’s decision was the first time the law was used against American lawmakers, though seven French politicians and European Union parliamentarians were denied entry in late 2017, according to The Jerusalem Post. Israel also used the law last summer to keep out Ariel Gold, who is American, Jewish and the national co-director of the antiwar group Code Pink, which supports the boycott movement, according to The Associated Press.
Last October, Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that an American could remain in the country to attend law school after the Interior Ministry had accused her of past support of the movement, while Omar Shakir, an American citizen and advocate for Human Rights Watch, is appealing a deportation order based on the law’s provisions.