- The Washington Times - Monday, August 19, 2019

Rep. Ilhan Omar on Monday shot down calls to have other members of Congress boycott visits to Israel but said continued U.S. aid should be made dependent on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu improving conditions for the Palestinians.

Ms. Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, whom Israel barred from entering based on their support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, held a press conference to denounce their treatment and accuse Mr. Netanyahu and President Trump of conspiring to keep them from making the trip.

They said members of Congress should be able to see what Israel does with billions of dollars of aid and urged their colleagues to consider curtailing assistance.

“We must be asking, as Israel’s ally, that Netanyahu stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land and ensure full rights for Palestinians if we are to give them aid,” said Ms. Omar, Minnesota Democrat.

She and Ms. Tlaib, Michigan Democrat, were supposed to be in Israel Monday, but Mr. Netanyahu announced last week they wouldn’t be admitted.

His government previously had signaled they would be allowed, but he said after seeing their itinerary he concluded they were looking for a platform to grandstand, rather than engaging in a fact-finding mission.

Ms. Omar denied that claim, saying that she, Ms. Tlaib and Rep. Stacey Plaskett were planning on meeting with members of the Knesset, Israel’s national assembly. Ms. Tlaib also said they would be meeting with Israeli military veterans who have advocated for Palestinian self-determination.

A version of their itinerary, obtained by a reporter for Israel’s public broadcaster, showed meetings with several Palestinian activists and international human rights groups, but no lawmakers or officials.

They said their trip was organized by Miftah, a nonprofit Palestinian advocacy group that has drawn criticism.

They said they learned of the group from other members of Congress, and were surprised at the criticism.

“We’re also taken aback and learn from everybody else that there’s some issues regarding them,” Ms. Tlaib said, calling those questions a “distraction.”

Reps. Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania, Dan Kildee of Michigan, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, and Hank Johnson of Georgia joined a trip organized by Mitfah and American Global Institute in 2016, according to Politico.

The congresswomen suggested Mr. Trump had reached out to Israel to squelch their visit. The president and the two women have been sniping at each other for months, with Mr. Trump accusing them of anti-Semitism and them leading the push to impeach him.

“We know Trump would love nothing more than to use this issue to pit Muslims and Jewish Americans against each other,” Ms. Omar said.

Ms. Tlaib, whose family is Palestinian, teared up as she shared her memories of harassment at the hands of Israeli authorities — even though she was a U.S. citizen.

Ms. Tlaib was granted an exemption from the Israeli government to visit her elderly grandmother as long as she did not advocate for BDS while there, but she decided not to go, arguing she would “be caged and bow down.”

“All I can do … as the granddaughter of a woman living in occupied territory is to elevate her voice by exposing the truth,” she said.

Mr. Trump, who strongly supported Israel’s decision, called the Michigan congresswoman “obnoxious” for choosing politics over her grandmother.

Democracy for America, a progressive advocacy group, had called for other members of Congress to refuse to visit Israel in solidarity with the congresswomen.

But Ms. Omar told lawmakers to go, so they could see the conditions of the Palestinians.

“We cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us,” she said.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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