Congress

Rep. Rashida Tlaib rejects Netanyahu’s terms and forgoes trip to visit grandmother

A day after rejecting Muslim Democrats’ visit, Israel said it would allow Tlaib entry on ‘humanitarian’ grounds

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, agreed not to voice support for BDS in order to secure a trip to her grandmother's village in the West Bank but then rejected the conditions of the trip. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Rep. Rashida Tlaib will forgo a trip to see her aging grandmother in the West Bank after the Israeli government said it would allow a visit on “humanitarian” grounds.

In a reversal, Tlaib rejected the conditions laid out by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the humanitarian visit, namely, that she not broadcast her support for boycotting Israel over its actions against Palestinians during her stay. 

Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, was permitted to visit family in the village of Beit Ur al-Fouqa, including her “sitty,” only if she agreed to those terms.

“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter — reflecting just how undemocratic and afraid they are of the truth my trip would reveal about what is happening in the State of Israel and to Palestinians living under occupation with United States support,” she said in a statement Friday. 

“When I won the election to become a United States Congresswoman, many Palestinians, especially my grandmother, felt a sense of hope, a hope that they would finally have a voice. I cannot allow the Israeli government to take that away from them or to use my deep desire to see my grandmother, potentially for the last time, as a political bargaining chip,” she said. 

The Michigan Democrat is barred from leading a congressional delegation to Israel and the Palestinian territories. The Israeli government determined it would lock out Tlaib and Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar because of their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, a global nonviolent effort to pressure Israel over its actions against the Palestinians.

The Israeli government claims the movement could “delegitimize” the country. In 2017 it implemented a law that denies visas to BDS supporters. 

After barring the visit by the freshman congresswoman, Israel said it would consider her request to visit her family. Tlaib initially wrote a letter addressed to the country's interior minister Thursday night agreeing to quietly visit her relatives, Israeli media reported.

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

Tlaib tweeted a photo of her grandmother after news broke of the Israeli government’s decision to lock her out of the country.

Netanyahu's government on Thursday barred Tlaib and Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and both outspoken supporters of Palestinian rights and critics of the influence of the pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill.

The official decision became public only hours after President Donald Trump fired a missive on Twitter prodding Netanyahu towards that outcome, saying allowing them to visit would “show weakness.”

Critics cast the move as an unprecedented effort by the president to impede a coequal branch of government.

Trump has often singled out Tlaib and Omar and House colleagues Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts for criticism. Political scientists have forecast that attacks on the “squad” will be central to his reelection strategy. 

Tlaib had planned the trip for months. She hoped to host a tour that would help humanize Palestinians in the eyes of her congressional colleagues and provide a different lens than the trip sponsored by an arm of the lobby AIPAC typically attended by first term lawmakers, she told reporters last year.

According to Israeli media, the 2017 law has been applied selectively, leveraged to deny entry to some students, activists and artists. 

But Palestinian American activists say the ban is applied more often than commonly understood, although official numbers are not available. 

For example, Raed Jarrar, an Iraqi-born American activist, told CQ/Roll Call he was denied entry to Israel for his father's funeral in Jenin in the West Bank in 2017. He worked for Amnesty International at the time. He unsuccessfully appealed to the U.S. embassy for help.

Jarrar alleges the screening process begins with racial profiling based on whether the visa applicant has a name suggesting Arab heritage. 

No other country in the world could get away with treating American citizens and legislators this way, especially when it's considered that Israel is a top recipient of U.S. aid,” Jarrar said in an interview with CQ/Roll Call. “It's really shocking.”

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