Democratic US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib sharply criticised Israel on Monday for denying them entry to the country and called on fellow members of Congress to visit while they cannot.
“I would encourage my colleagues to visit, meet with the people we were going to meet with, see the things we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear,” Omar said at a news conference. “We cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us.”
At Trump’s urging, Israel denied entry to Congress’s first two Muslim women over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement. Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on a tour organised by a Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
Tlaib, of Michigan, and Omar were joined Monday by Minnesota residents who said they had been directly affected by travel restrictions in the past. They included Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian American who’s executive and artistic director of Mizna, a cultural group that sponsors the annual Twin Cities Arab Film Fest. The US government denied visas to several actors and directors who had been invited to participate last year.
White House spokesman Hogan Gidley kept up the administration’s criticism of the two politicians.
“Israel has the right to prevent people who want to destroy it from entering the country – and Democrats’ pointless Congressional inquiries here in America cannot change the laws Israel has passed to protect itself,” Gidley said in a statement.
Before Israel’s decision, Trump tweeted it would be a “show of weakness” to allow the two representatives in. Israel controls entry and exit to the occupied West Bank.
Trump’s request to a foreign country to bar the entry of elected US officials – and Israel’s decision to do so – were unprecedented and drew widespread criticism, including from many Israelis as well as staunch supporters of Israel in Congress. Critics said Netanyahu’s decision was a reckless gamble that risked turning Israel into a partisan issue and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies.
Tlaib and Omar support “boycott, divestment and sanctions”, or BDS, a Palestinian-led global movement. Supporters say the movement is a nonviolent way of protesting Israel’s military rule over the occupied territories, but Israel says it aims to delegitimise the state and eventually wipe it off the map.
Last week, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the occupied West Bank to see her ageing grandmother. Deri’s office released a letter that it said was from Tlaib, which promised to respect travel restrictions during her visit. But after the announcement, Tlaib tweeted she would not allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies”.
The announcement prompted #MyPalestinianSitty to trend online, with Palestinians and others sharing stories of their grandmothers’ resilience.
“This was my other #MyPalestinianSitty who no one could mess with. She was proud of being from #BeitHanina and was one fierce woman,” Tlaib tweeted with a photo of her grandmother.
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) August 18, 2019
This is how I always remember #mypalestiniansitty– smiling, singing, and bringing joy to all around her. Unfortunately, because of my strong Palestinian activism, I may also be barred from entering Palestine to see her. But she is proud of all I do, every day ✊🏽🇵🇸❤ pic.twitter.com/aKlAMY4n7S
— Jinan Deena (@j_deena) August 18, 2019
The two congresswomen are part of the “squad” of liberal newcomers – all women of colour – whom Trump has labelled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for re-election.
The Republican president subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries. They are US citizens – Tlaib was born in the US and Omar became a citizen after moving to the US as a refugee from war-torn Somalia. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives voted to condemn Trump’s racist rhetoric against the congresswomen last month.