As it turns out, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) will not travel to Israel after the Israeli government initially banned her from entering the country and then reversed course.
Israel had relented after Tlaib sent a letter requesting to see her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank, during a planned four-day trip.
“In my attempt to visit Palestine, I’ve experienced the same racist treatment that many Palestinian-Americans endure when encountering the Israeli government,” she said in a statement Friday.
Tlaib had initially hoped to arrive in Israel on Sunday with Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on a trip focused mainly on viewing the impact of recent U.S. policies and aid cuts on Palestinians.
In her statement, Tlaib said the Israeli government had taken advantage of her personal situation and her desire to visit her grandmother, requesting that she pledge not to advocate for a boycott of Israel while she visited.
“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 lawmaker wrote.
She said visiting her family under such “oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother’s heart.”
Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who on Friday approved an overnight request from Tlaib to visit based on humanitarian grounds, called Tlaib’s decision not to visit a provocation.
“Last night, she sent me a letter asking to allow her to visit her 90-year-old grandmother ‘because this could be my last chance to meet her,’” said Deri. “I approved it for humanitarian reason, but it turns out that it was a provocation to embarrass Israel. Her hatred for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.”
In her letter to Deri, Tlaib asked to be allowed to visit Israel “in order to visit my relatives, and specifically my grandmother who is in her 90s.”
The congresswoman wrote that it “would be my last opportunity to see her.” She also pledged to “respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”
Tlaib’s grandmother, Muftiyah Tlaib, lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa, in the same limestone house she has lived in since 1974. On Friday morning, she expressed disappointment that her granddaughter’s visit was interrupted and then postponed.
“If they prevent her from entering, what can we do?” she told The Washington Post, seated in her living room. “We can’t force them to let her in, so what can we do?”
“She’s in a big position and she cannot visit her grandmother,” Muftiyah Tlaib, said laughing. “So what good is the position?”
On Thursday, Israel said it would not allow Tlaib and Omar to enter the country on Sunday for a trip focused assessing the results of U.S. policies and aid cuts on the Palestinians. The decision immediately drew widespread criticism from Democratic lawmakers and American-Jewish organizations, including the staunchly pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, with some saying it set a new precedent for U.S.-Israel relations.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the move “deeply disappointing,” and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who lobbied Israeli officials on Wednesday to allow the lawmakers to make a trip, called it “outrageous.”
The decision to ban the two Muslim lawmakers followed a rare intervention by President Trump, who tweeted on Thursday that approving their visit would “show great weakness.” He also said that Omar and Tlaib “hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”
Justifying the decision, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that, “Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress.”
“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, as do other democracies that prohibit the entry of people who seek to harm the country,” he said.
Tlaib and Omar have said their criticism of the Israeli government is based on policy differences and have repeatedly denied harboring any animus toward Jews or Israelis. Both have voiced support for a boycott movement against Israel to oppose the treatment of Palestinians.
In 2017, Israel passed legislation banning entry to activists who actively promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which has found growing support in Europe and the United States in recent years.
Last month, Israel’s Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer said Tlaib and Omar would be allowed to visit Israel “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
A senior White House official said that Trump never directly told Netanyahu to prohibit the visit but that the president’s views were clearly conveyed to the Israeli government.
With three weeks to go before Israelis hold a repeat election on Sept. 17, Netanyahu is fighting a bitter battle to stay in office. Banning Tlaib and Omar is an appealing move for his right-wing support base.
His statement on the decision, however, made no mention of pressure from Trump, focusing instead on the proposed itinerary, that their “sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”
“For instance: they listed the destination of their trip as Palestine and not Israel, and unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have visited Israel, they did not request to meet any Israeli officials, either from the government or the opposition,” said Netanyahu’s statement.
It has since been revealed that they were slated to meet with Israeli-Arab lawmaker Knesset Member Aida Touma-Souleman, but the bulk of the trip — organized by Miftah, a nonprofit organization headed by Palestinian lawmaker and longtime peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi — was to be centered in the Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem.