Israel's Demands Unacceptable: Top Democrat Defends Tlaib's Rejection of West Bank Visit

'Not only was this request disrespectful of Rep. Tlaib but of the United States Congress as well,' Steny Hoyer said in a statement

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listens to a constituent in Wixom, Mich., August 15, 2019.
Paul Sancya / AP

U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the second-most powerful Democrat in the House, said Israel's demands for U.S. congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to visit her grandmother were unacceptable.

"Not only was this request disrespectful of Rep. Tlaib but of the United States Congress as well," Hoyer said in a statement over the weekend. "This matter is a self-inflicted wound by one of America's closest allies, one of our closest friends, and a vibrant democracy."

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Tlaib on Friday rejected an offer by Israel to let her travel to the West Bank, the latest twist in a dispute drawing Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu together against U.S. Democrats ahead of elections in both countries.

Tlaib, a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives who has been critical of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, said she would not visit her family there because the Israeli government had imposed "oppressive conditions" to humiliate her.

She had initially planned to make an official visit to Israel along with fellow Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under public pressure from Republican President Trump, on Thursday said he would not allow the pair to make their trip. On Friday, Israel said it would allow Tlaib to visit family in the Israel-occupied West Bank on humanitarian grounds.

Israel's interior minister said on Friday U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's request to visit was a provocation to embarrass the country, after she rejected Israel's offer to let her travel to the occupied West Bank to see family there on humanitarian grounds.

"I approved (the request) on humanitarian grounds, but it turns out that it was a provocation to embarrass Israel. Her hatred for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother," Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri tweeted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer have strongly backed U.S. aid to Israel, which totals $3.8 billion annually, but both called on Israel to reverse the ban on their fellow Democrats on Thursday.

The initial ban sparked an outcry among Democrats in the U.S. Congress, who have largely been strong supporters of Israel, raising concerns about straining the two nations' relationship as Netanyahu aligns himself ever more closely with Trump.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful Jewish lobbying group, said while it did not support the two congresswomen's views, they should be allowed to visit.

Most Republicans in Congress have largely remained silent about the dispute. The fact that lawmakers are on a month-long recess has allowed them to avoid pointed questions.

Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio was critical of Israel's move but also of the two congresswomen.

"... Denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake," Rubio wrote on Twitter. "Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state."