Democratic US Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan on Monday blasted Israel’s refusal to grant them entry to the country over their support for boycotting the Jewish state, with Omar saying that Washington should halt aid to Israel and that Jerusalem’s decision was incompatible with its position as a US ally and a democracy.
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 and supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against the Jewish state. 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.
Israel denied entry on Thursday to the two lawmakers — the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress — under a 2017 law denying entry to supporters of the boycott movement, hours after US President Donald Trump tweeted that the Jewish state would be showing weakness if it gave them permission to come. Israel had granted Omar and Tlaib permission to enter in principle last month.
In a news conference in St. Paul, Omar said Monday that Israel’s actions were “not compatible” with being a democracy or an ally of the US.
She denied claims that she had not planned to meet any Israeli officials during her trip, saying she had scheduled meetings with Arab Knesset members, representatives of the controversial left-wing organization Breaking the Silence and other officials.
Omar called the decision to ban her “nothing less than attempt to suppress our ability to carry out our mission as elected officials,” claiming that while the decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been “unprecedented,” it was standard policy toward Palestinians “and those who hold views that threaten the occupation.”
She mentioned Israel’s attempts to deport Human Rights Watch’s American director for Israel and Palestine, Omar Shakir, after accusing him of advocating a boycott of the Jewish state, a claim he denies. His court hearing has been repeatedly postponed.
“These actions do nothing for peace — the total opposite, they prevent peace and deepen the occupation,” Omar said.
“Fortunately, we in the United States have a constructive role to play,” she said. “We give Israel more than $3 billion in aid every year, based on it being an important ally in the region and the ‘only democracy in the Middle East.'”
“But denying entry to duly elected officials of friendly countries is not consistent with being an ally, and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self determination is not compatible with being a democracy.”
She said Jerusalem should “stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land, and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are going to give them aid.”
She pushed other Congress members to visit, saying “I understand and appreciate congressmen if they avoid visiting Israel until me and Rashida are allowed in. However, I would encourage them to meet with the people we were going to meet with, see the things we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear.”
Omar closed by saying that Trump and Netanyahu could not succeed “in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us,” adding: “Occupation is real, hiding it won’t make it go away.”
Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin and whose grandmother lives in the West Bank, broke down in tears while describing hardships she said her relatives have had to go through.
She said that in the past, she had to “watch as my mother had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints.”
“I remember shaking with fear when checkpoints were put up near Beit Ur al-Fauqa,” she said, and claimed that her father had been “harassed” by Israeli forces in East Jerusalem.
“All I can do as her granddaughter is humanize her, her plight and the Palestinian people,” she said of her grandmother.
Tlaib likened Israel to apartheid South Africa, saying that “history repeats itself” since South Africa had also denied entry to a US lawmaker.
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley kept up the administration’s criticism of the two lawmakers earlier 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.
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 Netanyahu’s decision risked further driving a wedge into bipartisan support for Israel, and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies. Hebrew media reports claimed Netanyahu had been heavily pressured by Trump to block the two congresswomen.
Netanyahu on Sunday said that while Israel respects all Congress members and has a policy of automatically granting them entrance to the country, it would not welcome those who back boycotts of the Jewish state.
Tlaib and Omar are known as supporters of the BDS movement against Israel, a movement that seeks to force Israel through economic pressure and social and cultural ostracism to carry out its demands, which include dismantling its military presence in the West Bank. 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.
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.