Israel says Rep. Rashida Tlaib can visit grandmother after promising “not promote boycotts” on humanitarian visit

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Rashida Tlaib

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, gestures while testifying before the House Oversight Committee hearing on family separation and detention centers, Friday, July 12, 2019 on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib listens to a comment from a constituent during a town hall-style meeting in Inkster, Michigan, Aug. 15, 2019.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib listens to a comment from a constituent during a town hall-style meeting in Inkster, Michigan, Aug. 15, 2019.REUTERS/REBECCA COOK

ISRAEL — Israel said Friday that it had received and granted a request by U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib to visit the West Bank on humanitarian grounds. The move comes a day after the Israeli government said it would bar Tlaib and another Democratic congresswoman, who support a Palestinian-led boycott movement over Israel’s policies in the Palestinian territories, from entering the country.

Israeli media said earlier on Friday that the government was mulling Tlaib’s request to visit the West Bank, where she has family, and that it could require her to agree to preconditions for the visit.

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said in a statement on Friday that Tlaib had asked to visit her 90-year-old grandmother in the West Bank. In a letter published by Deri’s office, Tlaib said she would respect any restrictions and would “not promote boycotts” during her visit.

On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country’s interior minister had decided to deny entry to Reps. Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who were scheduled to visit next week. He said he supported that decision, which drew swift rebukes from Democratic leaders in Congress as well as the leading pro-Israel lobbying group in the U.S.

On Thursday morning, before Israel announced it would bar the joint visit by the congresswomen, President Trump said on Twitter it would show “weakness” by Israel to let them into the country.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Mr. Trump wrote. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

Netanyahu said in a statement hours later that, “as a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel. Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress.”

Netanyahu said the pair’s itinerary “revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”

In a statement posted to Twitter, Omar called Netanyahu’s decision “an affront.”

“It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government. Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” Omar said.

“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,” Omar continued.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denounced the decision to bar them entry, calling it “a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.” She also called President Trump’s earlier statements about the congresswomen “a sign of ignorance and disrespect, and beneath the dignity of the Office of the President.”

An aide to Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House majority leader, said he “believes refusing them entry is a grave mistake that undermines the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus.” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called on the government to reverse its decision, saying it “will only hurt the U.S.-Israeli relationship and support for Israel in America.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the most influential pro-Israel organization in the U.S., likewise said it disagreed with the move. 

“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 group said on Twitter. “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”

The first-term Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Tlaib’s family immigrated to the U.S. from the West Bank. Omar has been accused of anti-Semitism for previous remarks about Israel, but has apologized for her incendiary comments.

First published on August 16, 2019 / 6:08 AM

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