JERUSALEM — Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said Friday that she would not travel to Israel under “oppressive conditions” to see her 90-year-old grandmother after the Israeli government reversed course and said it would allow her to make the trip.
After initially banning her and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from entering the country, Israel relented earlier Friday in response to a request from Tlaib to see her grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank, during a four-day trip planned for next week.
Hours later, Tlaib said she had decided not to travel to Israel under conditions that would have included a pledge in writing not to “promote boycotts against Israel” while there.
In a statement, Tlaib said the Israeli government had taken advantage of her personal situation.
“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter — reflecting just how undemocratic and afraid they are of the truth my trip would reveal about what is happening in the State of Israel and to Palestinians living under occupation with United States support,” the lawmaker wrote.
She said visiting her family under such “oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother’s heart.”
Tlaib had initially hoped to arrive in Israel on Sunday with Omar on a trip focused mainly on viewing the impact of recent U.S. policies and aid cuts on Palestinians.
Israel’s decision to prevent their entry for that trip immediately drew widespread criticism from Democratic lawmakers and American Jewish organizations, including the staunchly pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, with some critics saying it set a new, unfortunate precedent for U.S.-Israel relations.
On Friday, after Israel announced Tlaib was welcome to visit her grandmother but before she declined, AIPAC shared a tweet saying, “We commend the Israeli government for permitting Congresswoman Tlaib to visit her grandmother.”
Israel’s Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who approved an overnight request from Tlaib on Friday to visit based on humanitarian grounds, called Tlaib’s decision not to visit a provocation.
“Last night, she sent me a letter asking to allow her to visit her 90-year-old grandmother ‘because this could be my last chance to meet her,’ ” Deri said. “I approved it for humanitarian reason, but it turns out that it was a provocation to embarrass Israel. Her hatred for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.”
In her letter to Deri, Tlaib asked to be allowed to visit Israel “in order to visit my relatives, and specifically my grandmother who is in her 90s.”
The congresswoman wrote that it “would be my last opportunity to see her.” She also pledged to “respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”
Tlaib’s grandmother, Muftiyah Tlaib, lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur Al-Fauqa, in the same limestone house she has lived in since 1974. On Friday morning, she expressed disappointment that her granddaughter’s visit was interrupted and then postponed.
“If they prevent her from entering, what can we do?” she told The Washington Post, seated in her living room. “We can’t force them to let her in, so what can we do?”
“She’s in a big position and she cannot visit her grandmother,” Muftiyah Tlaib said, laughing. “So what good is the position?”
In a tweet Friday morning, Omar expressed “strength and solidarity” with Tlaib. In November, they became the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called Israel’s move to bar the lawmakers “deeply disappointing,” and House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), who lobbied Israeli officials Wednesday to allow them to make a trip, called it “outrageous.”
The decision to ban the two Muslim lawmakers followed a rare intervention by President Trump, who tweeted Thursday that approving their visit would “show great weakness.” He also said that Omar and Tlaib “hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”
Hoyer issued a fresh statement Friday afternoon saying that he was not aware of any member of Congress previously being asked to agree to preconditions to visit Israel.
“Not only was this request disrespectful of Rep. Tlaib but of the United States Congress as well,” Hoyer said. “This matter is a self-inflicted wound by one of America’s closest allies, one of our closest friends, and a vibrant democracy. President Trump’s urging of such action and its implementation were — and are — unacceptable.”
Justifying the decision, Netanyahu said in a statement that “Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress.”
“As a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prohibit the entry of people who seek to harm the country,” he said.
Tlaib and Omar have said their criticism of the Israeli government is based on policy differences and have repeatedly denied harboring any animus toward Jews or Israelis. Both have voiced support for a boycott movement against Israel to oppose the treatment of Palestinians.
In 2017, Israel passed legislation banning entry to activists who actively promote the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, which has found growing support in Europe and the United States in recent years.
Trump has taken repeated aim in recent months at Tlaib, Omar and two other minority congresswomen collectively known as “the Squad” on Capitol Hill, accusing them of anti-Semitism and other transgressions. Last month, he tweeted that the four freshman lawmakers should “go back” to the “totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
Only one, Omar, was born outside the United States, and she became a U.S. citizen in 2000.
Last month, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, said Tlaib and Omar would be allowed to visit Israel “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
A senior White House official said that Trump never directly told Netanyahu to prohibit the visit but that the president’s views were clearly conveyed to the Israeli government.
With three weeks to go before Israelis hold a repeat election Sept. 17, Netanyahu is fighting a bitter battle to stay in office. Banning Tlaib and Omar is an appealing move for his right-wing base.
His statement on the decision, however, made no mention of pressure from Trump, focusing instead on the proposed itinerary, that their “sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”
“For instance: they listed the destination of their trip as Palestine and not Israel, and unlike all Democratic and Republican members of Congress who have visited Israel, they did not request to meet any Israeli officials, either from the government or the opposition,” said Netanyahu’s statement.
It has since been revealed that they were slated to meet with an Israeli Arab lawmaker, Knesset member Aida Touma-Souleman, but the bulk of the trip — organized by Miftah, a nonprofit organization headed by Palestinian lawmaker and longtime peace negotiator Hanan Ashrawi — was to be centered in the Palestinian territories and in East Jerusalem.
The two were also slated to visit the city’s flash point holy site, called the Haram al-Sharif by Muslims and the Temple Mount by Jews.
In a series of tweets Friday afternoon, Omar detailed what she had hoped to see while on the trip, which included a planned stop in Hebron, a city in the southern West Bank.
“Once a bustling economic hub, settlement expansion has resulted in a two-tiered city, with Palestinians under military occupation forced to walk on the opposite side of the street from Israelis,” Omar wrote.
More broadly, she said, “This was not the first trip of its kind. … Other Members of Congress have done similar trips.”
Wagner reported from Washington.