Rep. Rashida Tlaib said Friday she will not visit her family in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, hours after Israel’s interior ministry granted her request to travel to the territory on humanitarian grounds.
“When I won, it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” the Michigan Democrat tweeted, referring to her 90-year-old grandmother whom she was expected to spend time with in the West Bank.
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“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me,” Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, continued. “It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”
The interior ministry approved Tlaib’s entry Friday after she committed not to advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement during her visit. Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) were among 17 lawmakers who opposed a resolution condemning the BDS movement, which the House passed in July.
The ministry reacted sharply when Tlaib announced she would not make the trip.
“Rep. Tlaib just tweeted that she won’t be coming to Israel. Just yesterday she sent me a letter, asking to visit her 90 year old grandmother saying, ‘it might be my last chance to meet her,’” Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri tweeted Friday.
“I approved her request as a gesture of goodwill on a humanitarian basis, but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel,” Deri wrote in another post, including the Twitter handles for Tlaib and President Donald Trump. “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.”
Tlaib charged in a statement Friday that 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.”
The interior ministry’s initial announcement Friday morning came shortly after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday he would bar Omar and Tlaib, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, from entering the country.
Trump had publicly lobbied Israeli leaders to block the lawmakers, tweeting Thursday morning that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed” Omar and Tlaib to visit.
“They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” Trump tweeted.
Later Friday, Trump tweeted: “Israel was very respectful & nice to Rep. Rashida Tlaib, allowing her permission to visit her “grandmother.” As soon as she was granted permission, she grandstanded & loudly proclaimed she would not visit Israel. Could this possibly have been a setup? Israel acted appropriately!”
The president followed up with another tweet shortly after: “Rep. Tlaib wrote a letter to Israeli officials desperately wanting to visit her grandmother. Permission was quickly granted, whereupon Tlaib obnoxiously turned the approval down, a complete setup. The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother. She doesn’t have to see her now!”
The move by the Israeli government drew a fierce rebuke from congressional Democratic leadership, pro-Israel Democrats and the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a powerful pro-Israel lobby. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) even suggested Thursday evening that Netanyahu should refuse U.S. foreign aid as a result of the episode.
“If he doesn’t want members [of Congress] to visit, maybe he could respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we give to Israel,” Sanders told MSNBC.
And despite the president’s endorsement, Netanyahu’s decision was largely met with silence from Republican lawmakers, although Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) denounced it as “a mistake.” But after Tlaib turned down the trip Friday, Rubio tweeted that “being blocked is what they wanted all along.”
Netanyahu defended himself in a statement Thursday, characterizing Omar and Tlaib as “leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress” and claiming the “sole objective” of their planned trip to Israel “is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”
Tlaib tweeted Thursday that her grandmother “deserves to live in peace & with human dignity,” adding that Israel’s effort “to bar her granddaughter, a U.S. Congresswoman, is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”
Trump has routinely attacked the progressive “squad” of four freshman House members, all women of color, questioning their patriotism and asserting the American citizens should return to their countries of origin. Omar and Tlaib, both members of that quartet of lawmakers, have criticized Israel’s political influence in Washington and have been accused of anti-Semitism in recent months.
Nahal Toosi contributed to this report.