Despite getting permission to go to Israel, Tlaib ultimately decides not to go; Michigan representatives and Jewish organizations also weigh in on the subject.
By Josefin Dolesten
(JTA) After requesting and getting permission from the Israeli government to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., has decided not to go, tweeting, “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in.”
That tweet came on Aug. 16, a day after she and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., were denied permission to enter Israel days before their planned congressional mission to the West Bank, despite Israel’s envoy to Washington, Ron Dermer, saying last month that the country would not deny entry to any member of Congress.
Under Israeli law, BDS supporters can be prevented from entering the country. The Muslim congresswomen are both supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.
“We won’t allow those who deny our right to exist in this world to enter Israel. In principle this is a very justified decision,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan.
The decision was announced after President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter that Israel “would show great weakness” if it let in the two congresswomen. The president has repeatedly attacked Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, and Omar, who was born in Somalia, at times invoking rhetoric widely described as racist.
Omar responded to the news: “The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation.”
Response from Michigan’s Democratic Delegation
Several Democratic members of Michigan’s congressional decried the news.
“This is a completely misguided decision that reeks of political motivation,” said Rep. Andy Levin. “Congresswoman Tlaib, whose family lives in the West Bank, and Congresswoman Omar, who is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, deserve to be treated with the dignity and respect that any other member of Congress would receive.
“This decision pulls at the seams of our two countries’ important relationship and endangers Israel by attempting to politicize American support for the country,” he continued. “The Israeli government should reject the bigoted, wedge-driving political tactics of President Trump, who recently said that both congresswomen should ‘go back’ to their countries, and grant Reps. Tlaib and Omar entry into the country to do their jobs.”
Rep. Brenda Lawrence said, “Though I may not always agree on all matters of foreign policy with my colleagues Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, I do believe that as members of the U.S. Congress, they should be allowed to visit Democratic nations around the world. Barring members of Congress from entering Israel or any other country would set a bad precedent.”
Earlier this month, Rep. Haley Stevens participated in the bipartisan Congressional delegation to visit Israel. “I was so grateful for the opportunity to participate in balanced and thought- provoking educational seminars, meet with high-level Israeli and Palestinian officials, and learn more about the culture and politics of this incredible nation,” she said.
“I agree with leaders from both parties who have said that any member of Congress should consider visiting Israel to learn more about the region. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision to deny entry to members of the U.S. House of Representatives is heartbreaking and discouraging.
“I strongly oppose the BDS movement and all attempts to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist, and I encourage all to join me in the chorus to disavow these actions,” she added. “I also pray that the decision to bar members of Congress from visiting Israel will be reversed so they can see and experience the beautiful, accepting and democratic nation I saw firsthand.”
Pro-Israel groups, including AIPAC, and prominent Democratic lawmakers are already objecting to the move. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also criticized the decision.
AIPAC said that Israel should allow sitting members of the United States Congress to enter the country and see it for themselves. “We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution,” the organization tweeted. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
The American Jewish Committee’s CEO David Harris wrote on Twitter that “Israel faced a tough choice,” but that it “should’ve taken the high road & let these members of Congress in, no matter how vile their views.”
The Anti-Defamation League likewise said that “while we absolutely disagree with the pro-BDS positions of Reps. [Omar and Tlaib], keeping them out is counterproductive.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, global human rights NGO, decried the move. “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are unapologetic anti-Semites and supporters of the anti-peace BDS movement,” wrote Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean and director of global social action. “The congresswomen should have joined dozens of their colleagues who recently visited Israel and Palestinian territories. Still, the first instinct of Israeli officials to let them into the country was the right one.”
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, said, “Banning members of Congress from visiting Israel, where they can see facts on the ground with their own eyes, is counterproductive and plays into President Trump’s goal of politicizing support for Israel.
“The best way to fight falsehoods about Israel is with truth, and the best way to refute charges that Israel is anti-democratic is uphold democratic principles,” she continued. “Moreover, the best way to deepen an understanding of the complex dynamics surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is for individuals to visit. These are the opportunities Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s trip to Israel would provide.
“Preventing members of Congress from visiting Israel is effectively forcing them to boycott. This is unwise and counterproductive. Certainly, it is not the way to fight the global BDS movement, which we strongly oppose.”
There were Jewish groups who applauded the decision.
The Republican Jewish Coalition noted that the country recently welcomed a congressional delegation of 70 lawmakers from both parties. The RJC said Netanyahu welcoming that delegation shows that this decision “has nothing to do with American partisan politics.”
The Zionist Organization of America praised the ban in a statement from its president, Morton Klein, and chairman, Mark Levenson. The pair said that the congresswomen “should not be given the opportunity to further delegitimize and harm all of us.”
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman wrote on Twitter that he supported the decision, saying that the lawmakers’ trip itinerary showed the visit “is nothing more than an effort to fuel the BDS engine.”
The American Jewish Congress tweeted: “Israel made the right call on @RashidaTlaib & @IlhanMN: “It is Israel’s sovereign decision to not allow the entry of those who support boycotting the state of Israel. … A show of political theater would have only served to further inflame the already sensitive atmosphere.”
Associate Editor Jackie Headapohl contributed to this report.