MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Israel is barring two freshman Democratic congresswomen from entering the country. Both Minnesota's Ilhan Omar and Michigan's Rashida Tlaib have been critical of Israel's policies. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the decision after President Trump tweeted his thoughts on the matter. Trump said it would show great weakness if Israel were to let the two lawmakers go on a trip they had planned for this weekend. We will hear reaction from a Democratic lawmaker in Congress in a moment. First, let's go to Jerusalem and NPR's Daniel Estrin.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: Why is Israel saying it banned this visit by Tlaib and Omar?
ESTRIN: Well, Netanyahu said that Israeli law allows authorities to bar entry to people who advocate a global movement to boycott Israel. And he said these congresswomen were going to do just that. They were going to use the trip to promote a boycott of Israel. Now, these Congresswomen do support the right to boycott Israel. They are outspoken critics of Israel. Tlaib has talked about Israel's, quote, "racist policies." The question here is, why this Israeli decision now to ban them? - because last month, Israel said it would let them in out of respect for Congress. It seems that the deciding factor here was Trump. He has singled out these Congresswomen before. He has tried to paint them as the face of the Democratic Party, although many Democrats distanced themselves from these congresswomen's positions on Israel.
KELLY: Right, as you say, they have been outspoken for a long time, so the timing is a question. What do they say about what they were going to do when they got there? What was the trip supposed to be?
ESTRIN: Well, I spoke with a group associated with a Palestinian official. This group was organizing the trip, and they say that the congresswomen were going to be visiting Jerusalem and three Palestinian cities in the West Bank. And one of the organizers told me that the congresswomen wanted to see the impact of U.S. policies on Palestinians, so they were going to visit a Jerusalem hospital that was affected by the Trump administration's funding cuts for Palestinians. They were going to visit Israeli and Palestinian human rights activists, Palestinian youth and also visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. And Tlaib has a grandmother in the West Bank, and she was going to be visiting her and other relatives there.
KELLY: And the trip is now definitely off.
ESTRIN: That's what the congresswomen are signaling, yes.
KELLY: What else are they saying? Have they reacted to this move by Israel today?
ESTRIN: They have. Congresswoman Omar said Israel was imposing a Muslim ban. Both congresswomen are Muslim. And Tlaib tweeted a photo of her Palestinian grandmother. And she said that Israel banning her was a sign of weakness. And actually, several pro-Israel groups have also opposed this Israeli move. AIPAC, for instance, said it believes that U.S. representatives should be able to visit and experience Israel firsthand, even though the group disagrees with the congresswomen's views on Israel.
KELLY: So help us understand, Daniel, what else might be going on behind the scenes here. Just describe what the domestic political challenges that Benjamin Netanyahu is facing are.
ESTRIN: Yeah. He faces a lot of domestic political challenges because he's headed for a redo election next month. He is in a weakened position at the moment. He did not manage to form a government after last elections. And right now he has right-wing competitors who are posing a challenge. So going into this election, he wants to make sure he stays the leader of the right wing. And he wants to prove his nationalism. But part of that calculation is that he needs Trump. Last election season, Trump helped Netanyahu a lot. He invited Netanyahu to the White House. He recognized Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. That helped Netanyahu win voters last time. And now many Israelis are expecting that Trump will offer Netanyahu some goodies this time too.
KELLY: NPR's Daniel Estrin reporting on a very complicated back and forth going on there. He's in Jerusalem.
Daniel, thank you.
ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.