WASHINGTON — A senior Democratic lawmaker, who has just returned from Israel after leading a 41-member delegation, on Friday slammed the Jewish state for forcing Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to sign a letter promising not to promote boycotting Israel during her visit
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a staunch supporter of Israel, called the incident disrespectful to Tlaib and to the US Congress.
Hoyer said he was upset Israel reversed its initial decision and decided to bar Tlaib and fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar because of their backing for the boycotting of Israel.
“Even more disappointing is that, after deciding to allow Rep. Tlaib to visit her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank, the Israeli government required her to sign a letter in some way limiting her actions while in Israel and/or the West Bank,” Hoyer said in a statement.
“To my knowledge, no Member of Congress has ever been asked to agree to preconditions in order to visit Israel. The public release of that letter compounded the unacceptability of this requirement,” he said. “Not only was this request disrespectful of Rep. Tlaib but of the United States Congress as well.
In a furious statement on Thursday, Hoyer had called Israel’s decision to deny entry to the pair “outrageous, regardless of their itinerary or their views” and urged Israel to reverse it. He said the move was “contrary to the statement and assurances to me by Israel’s ambassador to the United States that ‘out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any Member of Congress into Israel.’ That representation was not true.”
The “unwarranted” and “self-destructive” move, Hoyer said, “reflects weakness, not strength… Instead, the Israeli government should seek to engage these Members of Congress in a dialogue regarding Israel’s security and the future of both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Tlaib on Friday changed her mind about visiting the West Bank, hours after Israel said it would allow her to visit relatives in the Palestinian territory on humanitarian grounds.
Taking to Twitter, Tlaib posted a photo of her grandmother and said Israel’s agreement to allow her to visit only under certain terms was humiliating. She stated that she would not “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.” Tlaib had been heavily criticized by Palestinian groups for initially agreeing to Israel’s terms for a family visit.
“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what [my grandmother] wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”
Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice. https://t.co/z5t5j3qk4H
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) August 16, 2019
Her comments came following Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s decision to allow her to go to the West Bank, after she 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.
In response to Tlaib’s announcement that she would not be coming after all, Deri tweeted: “Apparently [her request] was a provocation to make Israel look bad. Her hatred for Israel is greater than her love for her grandmother.”
Deri, who tweets almost entirely in Hebrew, also issued his tweet in English and tagged US President Donald Trump, who has been vocal in his opposition to Israel allowing in the two congresswomen, the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress.
“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 her letter to 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.”
In announcing her about-face, Tlaib said she had sent the letter to Deri because she broke down after reading of her grandmother’s disappointment to hear she was not coming.
A statement from Deri’s office Friday morning said he had decided to allow the congresswoman into the country based on her letter. It said he “expressed hope that she will live up to her promise and that the visit will only be for humanitarian needs.”
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. In that announcement, Israel said it would allow Tlaib to visit, on humanitarian grounds, if she wished to see her relatives in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, justifying the unprecedented decision to ban serving US legislators from Israel, said it was plain that Omar and Tlaib intended to use the visit to harm Israel. “Several days ago, we received [Omar and Tlaib’s] trip itinerary,” Netanyahu said in a statement, “which clarified that they planned a visit whose sole purpose was to support boycotts and deny Israel’s legitimacy. For example, they called their destination ‘Palestine’ and not ‘Israel,’ and unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress before them, they did not seek any meeting with any Israeli official, whether government or opposition.”
Hoyer also criticized Trump for his role.
“This matter is a self-inflicted wound by one of America’s closest allies, one of our closest friends, and a vibrant democracy. President Trump’s urging of such action and its implementation were – and are – unacceptable,” he wrote.