Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib spent Friday evening in a Detroit park surrounded by members of the anti-occupation group Jewish Voice for Peace, which had organized a Shabbat service and dinner to support her in the aftermath of her thwarted trip to the West Bank.
“I cannot tell you how much love I feel here,” the Michigan congresswoman said, her voice choked with emotion.
Billed as “Shabbat in the Park with Rashida: Rooted in Community and Freedom,” the event was organized by JVP Action, which describes itself as a “sister organization” of JVP - a left-wing group that backs the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. JVP Action says it is “building a multi-racial, intergenerational movement of Jews and allies to transform U.S. policy towards justice in Israel/Palestine.”
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JVP Action organizer Reuben Telushkin opened the event in Pallister Park saying that he had wanted “to show the congresswoman how much we love and support her.”
“Shabbat is the Jewish Sabbath, the day of rest,” Telushkin said. “After a long hard week of working … I think nobody deserves to do that more than the congresswoman.”
As Telushkin and then Tlaib spoke, participants held signs reading “Jews Love Rashida” and “Dignity from Detroit to Palestine.” Members of the group lit Shabbat candles and sang Hebrew songs.
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Tlaib said she was grateful to the group for consoling her on a night that she “should be on a plane” to see her grandmother in the West Bank. The supporters at the Shabbat event, she declared, between sobs, “have given me even more love today, trying to replace as much as what I would have been able to get once I got there but thank you. Thank you for uplifting peace, love and justice. Thank you for not politicizing what has happened to me because I’m still a granddaughter. More than anything, I’m a granddaughter. I’m also proud of my Palestinian roots. I’m also strong because I grew up in the most beautiful, blackest city in the country, the city of Detroit.”
A day earlier, on Thursday, the Israeli government announced that it was barring Tlaib and fellow Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from entering the country, citing their support for BDS. The decision came after U.S. President Donald Trump declared that Israel would be showing weakness by letting them into the country.
Shortly afterward, Tlaib wrote to Israeli Interior Minister Arye Dery asking for approval to visit Israel "in order to visit relatives, especially my grandmother who is in her nineties."
Dery's bureau released a statement Friday morning saying that Tlaib's request had been approved “on humanitarian grounds.”
A few hours later, Tlaib announced she had chosen not to make the trip, citing Israel's "oppressive conditions” - referring to the requirement that she agree not to promote boycotts against Israel during her trip.
Tlaib said that agreeing to restrict her freedom of speech would “break my grandmother’s heart” and she called on Americans to "re-evaluate our unwavering support" for Israel.
Speaking at the Shabbat event in the Detroit park on Friday, Tlaib said “I can’t wait to show my grandmother what I was doing” that evening. “It would bring her so much joy. If you know anybody in Palestine, in Israel, tell them to go by her home. She wants to pick figs with people. People want to make fun of that, but that’s really just who she is.”
She told the group, “thank you for hearing me, thank you for seeing me, thank you for loving me.” And she added, choking up once more, “thank you for allowing me to be not just your congresswoman, but also a granddaughter of a grandmother living under occupation.”
Beth Miller, JVP Action’s Government Affairs Manager said in a statement that the members of her organization were “in awe of Rep. Tlaib’s courage and stand by her.”
Miller called it “heartbreaking that Rashida had to spend this evening with us instead of her beloved family” and “enraging that the Israeli government would hold a Member of Congress’s family hostage unless she agrees to censor herself."
On Saturday, Tlaib took to Twitter to highlight Israel’s policy of preventing entry of anti-occupation activists. She retweeted New York State Senator Julia Salazar, who offered support to Tlaib by recounting her experience of being prevented from entering Israel in 2014.
Tlaib noted: “Right here is more proof that Israel bars Americans from entry and our country has yet to honestly address it. When will we stop looking away and realize that these aren't democratic values?”