'This could be my last opportunity to see her'

After ban, Tlaib asks to enter Israel to visit her elderly grandmother

Top minister urges for congresswoman to be allowed into the country after she vows to respect ‘any restrictions,’ refrain from promoting a boycott during her stay

US House Representative Rashida Tlaib participates in a ceremonial swearing-in at the start of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 3, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP)
US House Representative Rashida Tlaib participates in a ceremonial swearing-in at the start of the 116th Congress at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, January 3, 2019. (SAUL LOEB/AFP)

Democratic congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, whom Israel barred from visiting the country on Thursday along with her colleague Ilhan Omar, has submitted a humanitarian request to be allowed in, citing her elderly Palestinian grandmother in the West Bank.

“I would like to request admittance to Israel in order to visit my relatives, and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s and lives in Beit Ur al-Fouqa,” Tlaib wrote in a letter to Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

“This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit,” continued the letter, which was published by the Ynet news site Friday morning.

According to Hebrew media reports on Friday, the Israeli embassy in Washington has been in touch with Tlaib’s team and could allow her to visit as early as Sunday if she signs a document agreeing to a series of restrictions, including committing to refrain from promoting a boycott of Israel during her stay.

In response to Tlaib’s letter, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s point man on combating the boycott movement, called on Deri to allow her to visit on humanitarian grounds.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri leads a Shas faction meeting at the Knesset on May 27, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The decision to bar entry from the congresswomen was just and correct, because it emerged clearly from their planned itinerary that the purpose of the visit, as it was planned for them, was to continue to support and promote the boycott of Israel,” Erdan said in a statement Friday. “Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib’s request to visit her grandmother should be approved, especially in light of her commitment to honor Israeli law and refrain from promoting boycotts of us.”

On Thursday, the Interior Ministry had said in a statement it would consider letting Tlaib enter Israel in order to visit her relatives in the West Bank, if requested to do so: “Minister [Aryeh] Deri stressed that if a request is filed on behalf of Mrs. Tlaib to meet her family members for humanitarian reasons, subject to necessary commitments, he would consider that.”

Israel had announced in July that it would allow Omar and Tlaib to visit — despite a controversial 2017 Israeli law prohibiting any foreigner from entering the country who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.” But on Thursday, shortly after US President Donald Trump tweeted that allowing them to enter would “show great weakness,” Jerusalem reversed that decision, saying it would ban the lawmakers over their support of the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

Tlaib on Thursday panned the Israeli government for its decision, saying that preventing her from visiting her grandmother in the West Bank was a “sign of weakness” because “the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”

Omar likened Israel’s decision to ban her and Tlaib to Trump’s Muslim ban.

In a statement Thursday, Omar called Israel’s decision “chilling,” saying denying entry to sitting members of the US Congress was an “insult to democratic values.”

“Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” she said, referring to the president’s executive orders to restrict entry to citizens of certain predominantly Muslim countries.

The Israeli decision also drew sharp condemnation from leading Democrats.

In this photo taken on July 18, 2019 US Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaks on stage during a town hall meeting at Sabathani Community in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Kerem Yucel / AFP)

“Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the highest-ranked elected Democrat, said in a statement.

She slammed Trump’s demand that Israel bar the lawmakers, saying, “The President’s statements about the Congresswomen are a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”

Her comments were echoed by the top Democrat in the Senate, New York’s Chuck Schumer, who also criticized Trump’s pressure on Israel.

“Denying entry to members of the United States Congress is a sign of weakness, not strength. It will only hurt the US-Israel relationship and support for Israel in America,” Schumer said. “No democratic society should fear an open debate. Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.”

The criticism also crossed the aisle in some cases. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican, called the Israeli decision a “mistake.”

“Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along,” Rubio said on Twitter, “in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.”

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