Israel grants permission for Rep. Rashida Tlaib to visit family in West Bank

Posted at 5:09 AM, Aug 16, 2019

Israel has granted permission for Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib to enter the country on humanitarian grounds to visit her family in the West Bank a day after blocking her and fellow Rep. Ilhan Omar from visiting the country.

"Congresswoman Tlaib has sent tonight a letter to Minister Deri in which she committed to accept all the demands of Israel to respect the restrictions imposed on her in the visit, and she also promised not to advance boycotts against Israel during her visit," Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Friday in a statement announcing his decision.

The request from Tlaib of Michigan came a day after the country barred her and Omar, a freshman Democrat from Minnesota, from entering because of their support of a boycott against Israel. Israel's decision to bar their entry was encouraged by President Donald Trump in a remarkable step both by the US President and his ally, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to punish political opponents.

Tlaib had asked Deri for access so that she could visit her relatives, "and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s and lives in Beit Ur al-Fouqa. This could be my last opportunity to see her."

"I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit," Tlaib promised in the letter.

The boycott movement, formally known as the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, aims to end international support for Israel because of its policies toward Palestinians, as well as its continued construction of West Bank settlements, considered a violation of international law.

Tlaib and Omar have been vocal critics of Israel and have supported the boycott movement, voting against a House resolution condemning the movement, which received broad bipartisan support.

Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, who leads Israel's fight against the boycott movement, tweeted Friday morning, "The request from Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to visit her grandmother should be approved. Especially in light of her commitment to abide by Israeli law and not advance boycotts against us."

Erdan is one of the members of the forum who met on Wednesday to discuss whether to allow Reps. Tlaib and Omar to enter the country.

Ban came after Trump intervention

The announcement Thursday to prohibit the congresswomen from visiting Israel came shortly after Trump said Israel would be showing "great weakness" by letting them in.

Trump has criticized the two lawmakers -- who are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress -- in harsh and sometimes racist terms. But his move to call for their ban in Israel reflects a new chapter in his grudge and a further erosion of presidential norms, which in the past sought to avoid instilling partisanship in foreign affairs.

Trump's comments left Israel with little wiggle room, especially for Netanyahu, who has never publicly disagreed with Trump.

"The plan of the two Congresswomen is only to damage Israel and to foment against Israel," Netanyahu said in a statement following the decision.

Omar responded to the decision Thursday slamming it as "an insult to democratic values."

"It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government," Omar said in a statement. "Trump's Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress."

Omar went on to say, "As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it is my job to conduct oversight of foreign aid from the United States of America and to legislate on human rights practices around the world. The irony of the 'only democracy' in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation."

Israel's decision to deny entry to the two freshmen congresswomen was a turnaround of a position taken last month when the country's Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer said the pair would be permitted to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories.