Omar Tlaib

With tears in her eyes Rep. Rashida Tlaib (left) explains her decision not to travel to Palestine to visit her grandmother due to Israeli restrictions placed on the visit. Rep. Ilhan Omar (right) was banned along with Tlaib from entering Israel and Palestine. 

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) joined with Minnesotans of the Jewish faith and those of Palestinian lineage to decry the decision by Israel at the urging of President Trump to deny entry of the two congresswomen in the Israel, and thus, Palestine.

Omar and Tlaib held a nearly 40-minute press conference Aug. 19 inside the Minnesota capitol to condemn the actions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – actions taken at the behest of a Trump Tweet. On Aug. 15 the president took to Twitter to say, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib (sic) to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!” He followed up with a tweet a few hours later saying, “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” Following the tweet, it was announced that the only two Muslim women serving in Congress were banned from entering Israel. Since Israel controls entry into Palestine the ban also prevents the two from entering the nation state. Tlaib, whose grandmother lives in Palestine, was later given clearance to visit, but it came with an abundance of caveats, which Tlaib first agreed to, but later rejected.

“I talked to my grandmother and she said I am her free bird, so why would I come back and bow down when my election rose her head high … gave her dignity,” tearfully said Tlaib. “So, I decided I cannot come until I was free as a United States Congresswoman (to come).”

Netanyahu’s official reason for the ban of Omar and Tlaib is because the two were to meet with members of the BDS movement (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions), a movement to squeeze Israel economically until it withdraws from occupied territories of Palestine. Omar and Tlaib say that excuse does not hold water.

“The reason this group came to our attention was because several senior colleagues (in Congress) brought the group to our attention. Five representatives had traveled to Israel with them before and there was no issue,” said Tlaib.

The two congresswomen said their banning was similar to that of another representative; Rep. Charles Diggs. In 1972 Diggs was banned from entering apartheid-rule South Africa.

“But then you had a state department that fought for him and he was able to take his trip,” said Omar. “People feel when you are a United States citizen … forget a member of Congress … that your president works on your behalf … they defend you and fight for your right to freedom of speech and freedom of movement. To have a president who is not doing that puts fear in many people’s hearts.”

Along with Omar and Tlaib were other area women affected by Israel’s restrictive polices regarding Palestine.

Amber Harris, a Jewish American married to a Palestinian, said she was banned from entering Israel after her decision to marry a Palestinian.

“After our marriage we went on a honeymoon and upon our return (to Israel) I was held and interrogated for over 10 hours by the Israel security agency,” said Harris. “During my interrogation they found my social media and I was forced to open my Facebook for them to search. I was yelled at for being an ‘human rights activist’ and an ‘environmentalist.’ I was told I was a threat to the state of Israel and was forced to sign a document in Hebrew saying I was banned for 10 years.”

Harris said she was admonished by the Israeli security for participating in the Ferguson, Mo. protests following the killing of Mike Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action said Trump’s tweet and Netanyahu’s acquiescence show the two leaders are intent on dividing and not uniting.

“We have been dehumanized in service of a white nationalist agenda and our greatest power in resisting that is our solidarity,” said Mrotz. “The president and this administration have engaged in a calculated campaign to label us … to tell us who our enemies are. While defending the actions of neo-Nazis, while running ads and raising money with antisemitic language, while lifting up the leadership of members of Congress who actively target us, they want to co-opt our freedom, define our oppression and then use it to turn us against each other.”

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