During Congress’s August recess, a group of 41 Democratic and 31 Republican congressmembers traveled to Israel on a delegation sponsored by American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). AIPAC subsidizes congressional trips to Israel in order to further the “special relationship” between Israel and the United States. Israel is the largest recipient of U.S. military aid: $3.8 billion annually. AIPAC is the chief Israel lobby in the United States and a consistent apologist for Israel’s oppressive policies toward the Palestinians.
Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, had planned their own “Delegation to Palestine,” scheduled to begin on August 17. Tlaib, who was born in the U.S., planned to travel to the West Bank to visit her 90-year old Palestinian grandmother, whom she hasn’t seen for a decade. But, aided and abetted by Donald Trump, Israel withdrew permission for the trip unless Tlaib agreed to remain silent about Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians. She refused to abide by the gag order and the trip was cancelled.
Tlaib said in a statement, “Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother’s heart. 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.” She added, “Being silent and not condemning the human rights violations of the Israeli government is a disservice to all who live there, including my incredibly strong and loving grandmother.” The Untold History of ... Best Price: $11.64 Buy New $10.99 (as of 10:35 EST - Details)
Omar, who expressed “strength and solidarity” with Tlaib in a tweet, told reporters, “[Israeli Prime Minister] Netanyahu’s decision to deny us entry might be unprecedented for members of Congress. But it is the policy of his government when it comes to Palestinians. This is the policy of his government when it comes to anyone who holds views that threaten the occupation.” She tweeted, “We cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us.”
Israel’s refusal to allow members of the U.S. Congress entry into Israel-Palestine without muzzling them backfired. It has garnered widespread criticism, even by AIPAC, and focused the national discourse on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement (BDS), which Tlaib and Omar support.
Omar, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, “It is my belief that as legislators, we have an obligation to see the reality there for ourselves. We have a responsibility to conduct oversight over our government’s foreign policy and what happens with the millions of dollars we send in aid.” She says the U.S. must ask Netanyahu’s government to “stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are to give them aid.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders said, “the idea that a member of the United States Congress cannot visit a nation which, by the way, we support to the tune of billions and billions of dollars is clearly an outrage,” adding, “And if Israel doesn’t want members of the United States Congress to visit their country to get a firsthand look at what’s going on … maybe [Netanyahu] can respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we give to Israel.”