Middle East

US congresswoman turns down Israel visit after ban lifted

US Representative Rashida Tlaib. Source: AFP

Rashida Tlaib had previously been barred due to her support for a boycott of the Jewish state over its treatment of Palestinians.

US congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has decided against visiting her relatives in the West Bank after Israel issued a permit allowing her entry on humanitarian grounds.

Israel barred Tlaib and fellow Democrat Ilhan Omar from visiting Jerusalem and the West Bank over their support for an international boycott movement but later said Tlaib could visit her relatives in the West Bank.

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
Getty Images North America

The Israeli interior ministry released a letter purportedly signed by Tlaib in which she promised not to advocate boycotts during her visit.

But in a statement released later on Friday, Tlaib said "visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother's heart".

She added that "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."

It was not clear if she had initially agreed to the Israeli conditions, and if so what caused her to change her mind.

Tlaib and Omar had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank next week on a tour organised by a Palestinian group.

Democrat US Representatives Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (L) and Rashida Tlaib.
Democrat US Representatives Ilhan Abdullahi Omar (L) and Rashida Tlaib.
AFP

The two are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and support the Palestinian-led international movement boycotting Israel.

The two newly elected Muslim members of the US Congress have sparred with President Donald Trump, who tweeted before the decision that it would be a "show of weakness" to allow them in.

Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Middle East war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the West Bank to see relatives. The US-born Tlaib's family emigrated from the West Bank.

Deri's office released what it said was Tlaib's written request, on congressional stationery dated Thursday, in which she said she wanted to visit her grandmother, who is in her 90s.

"This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit," she said.

Shortly after the announcement, however, Tlaib tweeted that she would not allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to "bow down to their oppressive & racist policies".

"When I won (in 2018), it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can't allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me," she wrote.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organisation whose Miftah group had organised the original congressional visit, said she was not involved in the latest request.

"Miftah does not sponsor personal or individual or humanitarian visits nor do we intervene on behalf of any such petitions. As we announced yesterday, our delegation's visit has been postponed until such time as all Congressional participants can have free access to Palestine," she tweeted.

US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.
US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.
Getty Images North America

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 it risked turning Israel into a partisan issue and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies.

Israel announced the ban on Thursday after Trump tweeted that "it would show great weakness" if the two were allowed to visit. Asked later if he had spoken to Netanyahu, he said, "I did talk to people over there," without elaborating.

Omar, who became the first Somali American elected to congress, denounced the ban on her and Tlaib's tour as "an affront" and "an insult to democratic values".

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch