Trump says Tlaib ‘obnoxiously’ turned down approval to visit West Bank

US president calls lawmaker’s request to visit her grandmother on humanitarian grounds ‘a complete setup’

US President Donald Trump reacts at the end of a speech at a campaign rally, Aug. 15, 2019, in Manchester, New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
US President Donald Trump reacts at the end of a speech at a campaign rally, Aug. 15, 2019, in Manchester, New Hampshire. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

US President Donald Trump on Friday weighed in on Israel’s decision to ban congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting the country, saying that Tlaib had “obnoxiously” turned down an opportunity to visit her grandmother in the West Bank.

Tlaib had been granted permission to visit her grandmother on humanitarian grounds after she and Omar on Thursday were barred from visiting in their capacity as US lawmakers because of their backing for the boycotting of Israel. She changed her mind about the family trip hours after it was approved on Friday, citing its “humiliating” terms.

“Israel was very respectful & nice to Rep. Rashida Tlaib, allowing her permission to visit her ‘grandmother.’ As soon as she was granted permission, she grandstanded & loudly proclaimed she would not visit Israel. Could this possibly have been a setup? Israel acted appropriately!” Trump wrote on Twitter. It wasn’t immediately clear why he had put the word “grandmother” in quotation marks.

“Rep. Tlaib wrote a letter to Israeli officials desperately wanting to visit her grandmother. Permission was quickly granted, whereupon Tlaib obnoxiously turned the approval down, a complete setup. The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother. She doesn’t have to see her now!” Trump wrote in a subsequent tweet.

Israel on Thursday barred the two lawmakers — the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress — after initially giving the go ahead in principle last month for their visit.

Tlaib then 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. The request was approved by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.

The congresswoman changed her mind hours later on Friday. 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,” she wrote. “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.”

In response to Tlaib’s announcement that she would not 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 Trump, who had previously been vocal in his opposition to Israel allowing in the two congresswomen.

Earlier an unnamed senior diplomatic official had boasted that Tlaib “has been forced to surrender to the terms Israel set out.”

In her letter to Deri, Tlaib wrote: “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.”

“This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit,” she wrote.

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.”

But after it was revealed that she had agreed to Israel’s terms, she faced a barrage of criticism from Palestinian groups for surrendering to Israel.

“What is truly upsetting is that @RashidaTlaib fell in this trap and accepted to demean herself and grovel,” tweeted Nour Odeh, a senior official at the Palestinian NGO Miftah. Miftah was said to be co-sponsoring Tlaib and Omar’s banned trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank.

“Israel is the oppressor and its racist attitude towards Palestinians is established policy. Rashida should have known better. She should have acted with more dignity & pride,” Odeh wrote.

Israel had announced in July that it would allow Omar and Tlaib to visit, despite a controversial 2017 Israeli law allowing the country to bar 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.”

Omar contradicted the PM on Friday, 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.

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 to the US Ron Dermer seeking to justify the decision.

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