Congresswoman Ilhan Omar on Friday denied Israeli leaders’ assertions that she had not intended to meet with any Israeli representatives during her banned visit to Israel and the West Bank with fellow Democratic legislator Rashida Tlaib next week, saying she had planned to sit with Israeli Knesset members and security officials.
Omar planned to meet the MKs, including Arab Knesset member Aida Touma-Sliman, and Israeli security officials because of her role as a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, an aide to the congresswoman told The Times of Israel. Neither Omar nor her aide said whether Tlaib had planned to meet Israeli officials.
Omar’s aide said that Omar and her staff had been planning to arrive in Israel earlier than Tlaib, on Saturday. He said she planned to hold the meetings with Israelis, without Tlaib, on Saturday evening and Sunday morning, before the itinerary with Tlaib would begin later Sunday.
After Israel announced it would deny the pair entry, Omar said Friday that US aid to Israel should be questioned due to actions that she said were “not consistent with being either an ally or a democracy.”
Israel on Thursday barred the two lawmakers — the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress — from visiting, after initially giving the go ahead.
Israel’s Channel 12 reported Friday, citing senior officials in Jerusalem, that an initial decision to allow Omar and Tlaib to visit Israel, announced last month by Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, was taken without consulting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The report said Dermer relied on precedent to make the call, since Israel had never previously prevented serving US legislators from visiting.
Netanyahu explained the reversal on Thursday by citing the support of Tlaib and Omar for boycotts of Israel and alleging that their itinerary gave their intended destination as “Palestine” rather than “Israel” and showed they planned meetings only with Palestinian officials. Israel’s volte face came soon after US President Donald Trump tweeted that Israel would be showing “great weakness” if it let them enter.
Netanyahu had said that “unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress before them, they did not seek any meeting with any Israeli official, whether government or opposition.”
In a lengthy Twitter thread Friday, Omar said this claim was false as regarded her plans. She went on to list the many alleged Israeli human rights violations against the Palestinians that the congresswomen had intended to investigate.
Let’s be clear: the goal of our trip was to witness firsthand what is happening on the ground in Palestine and hear from stakeholders —our job as Members of Congress.
But since we were unable to fulfill our role as legislators, I am sharing what we would have seen. (THREAD)
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) August 16, 2019
“I planned to hold meetings with members of the Knesset (both Jewish and Arab) along with Israeli security officials,” she wrote. “The claims of @IsraeliPM otherwise are not true. As a delegation, we were also were scheduling a meeting with [the US embassy].”
No Israeli officials of any government agency or political party were listed in an itinerary for the trip posted online by reporters Thursday, which showed an itinerary beginning on Sunday afternoon.
Omar said the trip’s purpose had been “to witness firsthand what is happening on the ground in Palestine and hear from stakeholders — our job as Members of Congress. But since we were unable to fulfill our role as legislators, I am sharing what we would have seen.”
She went on to mention the bulldozing of Bedouin communities “to build settlements on Palestinian land”; the effects of humanitarian aid cuts under the Trump administration; the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip; Hebron — where “settlement expansion has resulted in a two-tiered city, with Palestinians under military occupation forced to walk on the opposite side of the street from Israelis”; Bethlehem, where due to the Israeli security barrier, “only 13% of Bethlehem is now accessible to Palestinian use.”
Omar went on to say that other congressmen with similar itineraries had not been denied entry in the past.
And she added: “As many of my colleagues have stated in the last 24 hours, we give Israel more than $3 billion in aid every year. This is predicated on their being an important ally in the region, and the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East.
“Denying visits to duly elected Members of Congress is not consistent with being either an ally or a democracy. We should be leveraging that aid to stop the settlements and ensure full rights for Palestinians.”
Earlier in the day, Tlaib said she would not visit the West Bank, hours after Israel said it would grant her request to come meet relatives in the territory on humanitarian grounds.
Tlaib wrote on Twitter that she had decided she would not “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies… I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in.”
After Israel announced it was barring the pair, Tlaib had submitted a letter requesting to be allowed in despite the ban, citing her elderly grandmother, and promised not to promote boycotting Israel during her visit. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri approved her visit, while an unnamed senior diplomatic official boasted that Tlaib “has been forced to surrender to the terms Israel set out.” Tlaib was heavily criticized by Palestinian groups for initially accepting the Israeli terms for a family visit.
Responding to Tlaib rejection of the visit, Deri said: ““Apparently [her request] was a provocation to make Israel look bad. Her hatred for Israel is greater than her love for her grandmother.”
Later Friday, Tlaib tweeted a quote of South African anti-apartheid activist — and harsh Israel critic — Desmond Tutu: “‘I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.'”
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 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.
The Israeli ban was criticized by centrist, left-wing and Arab Israeli lawmakers, and by many prominent US Democratic leaders, notably including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who led a group of Democratic congressmen on a visit to Israel just days ago.
The ban was also criticized by the pro-Israel AIPAC lobby group, and was not backed by the umbrella Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, even after the Conference hosted a call by Israel’s Ambassador Dermer seeking to justify the decision.