Rashida Tlaib Cancels West Bank Visit, Citing Israel's 'Oppressive Conditions'

Congresswoman calls for U.S. to 're-evaluate our unwavering support' for Israel over Netanyahu's 'alignment with Trump's hate agenda'

U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib listens to a question from a constituent during a Town Hall style meeting in Inkster, Michigan, U.S.  August 15, 2019.
REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said Friday she is canceling her planned visit to the West Bank due to Israel's "oppressive conditions" after the Interior Ministry accepted her petition to visit on "humanitarian grounds," and calling on Americans to "re-evaluate our unwavering support" for Israel. 

"Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate would break my grandmother's heart," Tlaib said in a statement, apparently referencing Israel's demand that she agree not to promote boycotts against Israel and "respect the limitations put on her" during her visit. "Silencing me with treatment to make me feels less-than is not what she wants for me – it would kill a piece of me that always stands up against racism and injustice." She added that "I will not allow the Israeli government to humiliate me and my family or take way our right to speak out."

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The statement further said that the Israeli government's "alignment with Trump's hate agenda must prompt a re-evaluation of our unwavering support for the State of Israel," and that the denial of entry is "about the deep-rooted racism within Israel that is taking us further away from peace."

Interior Minister Arye Dery, who earlier approved Tlaib's humanitarian request to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, tweeted in response that her cancellation showed that her request was a mere provocation to smear Israel. "Her hatred for Israel supersedes her love for her grandmother," Dery wrote. 

On Thursday, Israel barred Tlaib and fellow Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from entering the country, citing their support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, after U.S. President Donald Trump declared that Israel would be showing weakness by letting them into the country. 

In a letter she sent to Dery on Thursday, Tlaib wrote that she was requesting approval to visit Israel "in order to visit relatives, especially my grandmother who is in her nineties, and lives in Beit Ur al-Fauqa. This may be my last opportunity to see her." 

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Dery's bureau released a statement Friday morning saying that Tlaib's request was approved. "Tlaib sent a letter last night to Minister Dery, in which she promised to hold to Israel's requests, respect the limitations put on her for the visit and also affirmed that she would not promote the boycott against Israel during her visit." Dery expressed hope that "she will stand by her obligations and the visit will be for humanitarian means alone."

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan wrote Friday morning that Tlaib's request must be approved "mainly in light of the need to respect Israeli law and not to advance the boycott against us." Erdan, who does not have the authority to make that decision, did tweet that the decision to ban the two congresswomen from entering Israel was "correct and just" because of their support for the boycott movement.

After the decision was made to deny visas to the two lawmakers, Tlaib uploaded a picture of her grandmother to Twitter and wrote "The decision by Israel to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. congresswoman, is a sign of weakness because the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening."

The decision was criticized by the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC, as well as numerous American lawmakers who have been supporitve of Israel. 

Republican Senator Marco Rubio author of the Combatting BDS Act, called it a mistake. While stressing he disagrees with Omar and Tlaib, Rubio added that "being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state."

Congressman Justin Amash, who recently left the Republican Party, said Israel should stand up to Trump and allow the visit. "Nobody has to agree with their opinions, but it will inevitably harm U.S.-Israel relations if members of Congress are banned from the country. We must find ways to come together; there’s enough division," he tweeted.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat who is a frontrunner in the race for the party's 2020 presidential nomination, tweeted that no leader of the free world should encourage a democracy to deny entry to visitors based on the content of their ideas—even ideas they strongly object to.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, also a Democrat, said the decision was "beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel," as well as condemning Trump's comments about the two lawmakers.

Last month, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer announced that Tlaib and Omar would be allowed to enter the country: “Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America”, his government would not deny entry “to any member of Congress."    

Muftia Tlaib, the maternal grandmother of the congresswoman, August 15, 2019.
AFP