Boycott-backing US lawmakers to speak on Israel travel ban
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Boycott-backing US lawmakers to speak on Israel travel ban

Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar, denied entry into Israel last week over their support for boycotts of the Jewish state, to hold press conference Monday afternoon

In this July 15, 2019, file photo, US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, right, speaks as US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, listens during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
In this July 15, 2019, file photo, US Rep. Ilhan Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, right, speaks as US Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, listens during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Democratic US Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan plan to host a news conference Monday afternoon on Israel’s entry ban last week.

Apparently at the urging of US President Donald Trump, Israel denied entry to the two Muslim representatives over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.

Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour organized by a stridently anti-Israel Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and support boycotting the country. Tlaib has said she is in favor of a one-state formula to end the Israel-Palestinian conflict that would essentially spell the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

The news conference announcement said they would discuss “potential policy responses” to Israel’s decision. Omar spokesman Jeremy Slevin declined to discuss them ahead of the news conference.

The notice also said they would be accompanied by Minnesota residents who have been directly impacted by travel restrictions.

They include Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian American who is executive and artistic director of Mizna, a cultural group that sponsors the annual Twin Cities Arab Film Fest. The US government denied visas to several Mideast actors and directors who had been invited to participate last year.

US President Donald Trump (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embrace prior to signing a Proclamation on the Golan Heights in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, March 25, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley kept up the administration’s criticism of the two lawmakers Monday.

“Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have a well-documented history of anti-Semitic comments, anti-Semitic social media posts and anti-Semitic relationships,” he said in a statement. “Israel has the right to prevent people who want to destroy it from entering the country — and Democrats’ pointless Congressional inquiries here in America cannot change the laws Israel has passed to protect itself.”

Before Israel’s decision, Trump tweeted it would be a “show of weakness” to allow the two representatives in. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 war along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — territories the Palestinians claim for a future state. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, but retains control of the West Bank.

Trump’s recommendation to a foreign country to bar the entry of elected US officials — and Israel’s decision to do so — were unprecedented and drew widespread criticism, including from many Israelis as well as staunch supporters of Israel in Congress.

Critics said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision was a reckless gamble and risked turning Israel into a partisan issue and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies.

Tlaib and Omar are known as supporters of “boycott, divestment and sanctions,” or BDS, a movement that seeks to pressure Israel through economic pressure and social and cultural ostracism to carry out its demands, including dismantling its military control over the West Bank, returning the Golan Heights to Syria and ending its identification as a Jewish state. Supporters say the movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel’s 52-year military rule over the Palestinians, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state and eventually wipe it off the map.

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

Last week, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the West Bank on “humanitarian” grounds to see her aging grandmother. Deri’s office released a letter that it said was from Tlaib, which promised to respect the Israeli demand that she not advocate for a boycott of the country during her visit. But after the announcement, Tlaib tweeted she wouldn’t allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies” and declined to make the trip.

The two congresswomen are part of the “squad” of liberal newcomers — all women of color — whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for re-election. He subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries. They are US citizens — Tlaib was born in the US and Omar became a citizen after moving to the United States in her childhood as a refugee from war-torn Somalia.

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