Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar blast Trump, Netanyahu after blocked visit
WASHINGTON – Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib blasted both President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an emotional news conference Monday where the progressives called for Congress to act and questioned whether Israel is an ally or a democracy after the country barred both lawmakers from entering for a congressional visit this past weekend.
“It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu has apparently taken a page out of Trump’s book,” Tlaib said, moments after tearing up as she described the “dehumanizing” conditions she saw as a girl visiting her Palestinian grandmother — known as a “Sitty” in Arabic — in Israeli-occupied territory, including “shaking with fear” when she’d see the tanks and soldiers with guns.
The news conference, which also featured citizens who shared stories of how they were affected by similar travel restrictions in Israel, came days after the country barred their entry, citing a 2017 law that bars foreigners who publicly support boycotts of Israel, and President Donald Trump personally urging the country to block their visit. Israel later granted Tlaib access to the West Bank on humanitarian grounds to visit her grandmother — conditions the Detriot Democrat rejected.
“All I can do as my Sitty’s granddaughter, as the granddaughter of a woman who lives in occupied territory, is to elevate her voice by exposing the truth the only way I know how,” she said, “by humanizing the pain of oppression.”
‘A complete setup’: Trump criticizes Tlaib for declining Israel’s approval to see elderly grandmother
More: Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were barred from visiting Israel. Here’s what we know
Omar and Tlaib – the first Muslim women to serve in Congress – had planned to travel to Jerusalem and the West Bank, among other stops, over the weekend. The two progressives have been sharply critical of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians and were blocked due to an Israeli law passed in 2017 that allows Israel to ban foreigners who publicly supported boycotts of the country.
Both lawmakers had voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which, among other goals, aims to pressure Israel into ending its occupation of most of the West Bank.
Omar and Tlaib say their support for movements like BDS is based on policy disagreements, not anti-Jewish sentiment.
More: Tlaib says she will not go to the West Bank after being granted permission by Israel
Critics of the boycott movement, however, call it “economic warfare” against Israel.
Throughout Monday’s news conference, Omar, D-Minn., highlighted the amount of aid the U.S. sends Israel, questioning whether the country is indeed an ally and a democracy, citing conditions there and its decision to bar sitting members of Congress from conducting oversight.
Omar said the aid Israel receives from the U.S. every year “is predicated on their being an important ally in the region and the only democracy in the Middle East,” she said. “But denying a visit to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self-determination is not consistent with being a democracy.”
Omar said Trump would “love nothing more” than to use this controversy to “pit Muslims and Jewish Americans against each other.” She also urged fellow members of Congress to pick up the reins for her and Tlaib and inquire for themselves about what was happening in Israeli-occupied territory.
“We cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us,” she said, adding that the decision to bar them from the country was “nothing less than an attempt by an ally of the United States to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials.”
Omar over the past couple of months has also come under fire for remarks she’s made about Israel.
In March, Omar in a tweet suggest that the pro-Israel lobby pushes lawmakers to show “allegiance to a foreign country,” adding that accusations of anti-Semitism are “designed to end the debate” about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
She also was criticized in February for tweeting American lawmakers’ lack of criticism of Israel’s policies was “all about the Benjamins.” She also said that American lawmakers are under the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – a leading pro-Israel lobbying group.
That remark drew heavy criticism from her Capitol Hill colleagues on both sides of the aisle. She later apologized and deleted those tweets.
Trump, who has continued to attack both lawmakers, — along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., as part of an effort to paint Democrats as extremists and socialists — personally got involved in the Israel dispute.
“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit,” he wrote in a tweet last week just before Israeli officials announced the pair wouldn’t be allowed into the country. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced later that Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, would be allowed to visit her grandmother in the West Bank but Tlaib, citing “racist treatment” and “oppressive conditions,” said she would no longer plan to visit the occupied territory.
“I have…decided to not travel to Palestine and Israel at this time. Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother’s heart,” Tlaib said in a statement. “Silencing me with treatment to make me feel less-than is not what she wants for me – it would kill a piece of me that always stands up against racism and injustice.”
Those comments by Tlaib sparked another round of attacks from the president, who declared she “grandstanded” and her travel requests were a “complete setup.”
Contributing: Rebecca Morin, Nicholas Wu and Deirdre Shesgreen