Omar, Tlaib Criticize Israel’s Travel Restrictions, Call for Aid to Be Used As Leverage

August 19, 2019
U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) react as they discuss travel restrictions to Palestine and Israel during a news conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Building in St Paul, Minnesota, August 19, 2019. REUTERS/Caroline Yang

U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) criticized the Israeli government’s decision to bar them from visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories, and advocated for Congress to use aid to Israel as leverage against the Jewish state in an Aug. 19 press conference.

Omar began by saying that she, Tlaib and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) had been planning “to travel to Israel and Palestine to hear from individuals on the ground about the conflict.” She also argued that they were going to meet with Israeli officials, contradicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who had said otherwise. Their reported itinerary didn’t show any meetings with Israeli officials, although a spokesperson for Omar is claiming that the reported itinerary is outdated.

“The decision to ban me and my colleagues, the first my colleague, the first two Muslim American women elected to Congress is nothing less than an attempt by an ally of the United States to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials,” Omar said. “But this is not just about me. Netanyahu’s decision to deny us entry might be unprecedented for members of Congress, but it is the policy of his government when it comes to Palestinians. This is the policy of his government when it comes to anyone who holds views that threaten the occupation, a policy that has been edged on and supported by Trump’s administration.”

She added that she and Tlaib are not the only ones being barred from Israel and the Palestinian territories, saying that such actions “maintain the occupation and prevent a solution to the conflict. Fortunately, we in the United States have a constructive role to play. We give Israel more than $3 million in aid every year. This is predicated on their being an important ally in the region and the only democracy in the Middle East.” Omar used air quotes when describing Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

“We must be asking as Israel’s ally [for] the Netanyahu government [to] stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are to give them aid,” Omar said.

Following Omar, Tlaib drew an analogy between herself and former Rep. Charles Coles Diggs Jr. (D-Mich.), who was denied entry from apartheid South Africa in 1972, saying that “history does have a habit of repeating itself.” She went onto recall instances where she and her family had to endure “dehumanizing checkpoints” to visit her family in the West Bank.

Our delegation trip included meetings with Israeli veterans who were forced to participate in military occupation. They also desperately want peace and self determination for their Palestinian neighbors,” Tlaib said. “They could have shed light into injustices of raids, shootings, demolitions and child detention. The delegation would have seen firsthand why walls are destructive, not productive.”

During the Q&A, Tlaib said that her decision to not visit her grandmother came after a lengthy discussion her family.

“We all decided as a family I could not go until I was a free American congresswoman not just to visit my grandmother but to talk to Palestinians,” Tlaib said.

She also said that accusations of anti-Semitism against MIFTAH, one of the sponsors of the trip, were “distractions.”

The full press conference can be seen below:

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