Congresswoman Rejects Israeli Visit as Effort to ‘Silence’ Her

(Bloomberg) -- Rashida Tlaib, the Democratic U.S. House member barred by Israel because of her support of a boycott, said she is rejecting the country’s new offer to let her visit her grandmother in the West Bank, saying the terms are too restrictive.

“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in -- fighting against racism, oppression & injustice,” the Michigan lawmaker said Friday on Twitter.

Israel said Friday it would let Tlaib visit her family, a day after barring entry by her and fellow Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, also a Muslim, under heavy pressure from President Donald Trump. The president said in a Twitter post Thursday that Israel would show “weakness” if it let the two into the country.

Trump wrote in a tweet on Friday that Israel “was very respectful & nice” to Tlaib. “As soon as she was granted permission, she grandstanded & loudly proclaimed she would not visit Israel,” Trump wrote. “Could this possibly have been a setup?”

Israel’s decision to allow Tlaib to see her grandmother in the West Bank came after Tlaib agreed in a letter not to re-state her support for a boycott of Israel during the visit, the country’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said in a statement. That was a condition Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a firm Trump ally, had laid out.

After Tlaib indicated she would reject the offer, Deri questioned on Twitter whether her interest in visiting relatives was genuine. “I approved her request as a gesture of good will on a humanitarian basis, but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel,” he wrote. “Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.”

Trump’s unprecedented intervention and the decision by Netanyahu’s government to block the women’s privately funded trip sparked furor among Democrats and at least one prominent Republican -- Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The staunchly pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee also said the two lawmakers should be allowed to visit.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman called the trip, supposed to start this weekend, “nothing more than an effort to fuel the BDS engine,” referring to the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” movement against Israel over the country’s treatment of Palestinians, who Omar and Tlaib have voiced support for.

The decision to block the visit reversed a previous announcement in July, from Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, that Israel would permit the women to enter out of respect for Congress.

Netanyahu will again face voters in mid-September, and with his close bond to Trump as one of his chief bragging points, he can ill afford to alienate the American president. Trump has seized on Omar and Tlaib, along with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, to argue that the Democratic Party is too extreme as he seeks re-election next year.

Tlaib on Friday said that her family would not want her to agree to Israel’s restrictions and that they were an effort “to humiliate me and my family or take away our right to speak out.”

“When I won the election to become a United States congresswoman, many Palestinians, especially my grandmother, felt a sense of hope, a hope that they would finally have a voice,” Tlaib said in a statement from her congressional office. “I cannot allow the Israeli government to take that away from them or to use my deep desire to see my grandmother, potentially for the last time, as a political bargaining chip.”

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