Israel’s Tlaib-Omar ban is an affront to all Americans and an assault on all Palestinians

Surprise, surprise. The racist Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blocked two Members of Congress–Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN)–who are Muslim women of color, outspoken advocates for social and racial justice, and unabashed supporters of Palestinian rights, from entering the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank on an official congressional delegation.

Tlaib initially accepted a condescending Israeli offer to allow her a humanitarian visit to her grandmother in the West Bank on the condition that she forfeit her right to express her political views on the trip, but quickly reversed her decision.

In a powerful statement, Tlaib said: “My family and I have cried together throughout this ordeal; they’ve promised to keep my grandmother alive until I can one day reunite with her. It is with their strength and heart that I reiterate I am a duly elected United States Congresswoman and I will not allow the Israeli government to humiliate me and my family or take away our right to speak out.

But she has since changed her mind, citing Israel’s “oppressive policies”. “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice,” Tlaib said in a tweet.

Meanwhile, the white supremacist president of the United States, who told Tlaib and Omar to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” is cheering on Israel’s racist entry policies, which mirror those of his administration’s Muslim ban.

Rather than demanding that elected Members of Congress, who dole out $3.8 billion of taxpayer money each year to give weapons to Israel to oppress the Palestinian people, be allowed to see their handiwork up close and personal, Trump is treasonously siding with Israel in obstructing elected officials from fulfilling their duties.

Trump is treasonously siding with Israel in obstructing elected officials from fulfilling their duties

Tlaib and Omar were scheduled to begin their congressional delegation, hosted by the Palestinian rights advocacy organization Miftah, on Sunday. The itinerary was to have included visits to Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Jerusalem to meet with Palestinian and Israeli civil society organizations, humanitarian aid workers, youth, and staff of a Palestinian hospital negatively impacted by the Trump administration’s cutoff of economic assistance to the Palestinian people.

“The Israeli government’s decision to ban Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Palestine is an affront to the American people and their representatives,” Miftah said in a statement. “It is an assault on the Palestinian people’s right to reach out to decision-makers and other actors from around the world.”

Israel’s “ban is a clear case of discrimination and hostility based on political views and ethnic background, deserving of moral indignation and unequivocal condemnation in Palestine and the United States,” Miftah added.

For decades, Israel has systematically denied entry to US citizens whose ethnicity, national origin, religion, or political viewpoint it finds abhorrent. This discrimination, documented in a recent policy paper published by American Muslims for Palestine, disproportionately impacts Palestinian-, Arab-, and Muslim-Americans and those who support Palestinian rights.

Ironically, Tlaib decried these very policies as “racist” at a Capitol Hill briefing last month. Now she and Omar are at the receiving end of them.

For decades, Israel has systematically denied entry to US citizens whose ethnicity, national origin, religion, or political viewpoint it finds abhorrent

But while Tlaib and Omar’s denial of entry may be the highest-profile Israeli ban on visiting Members of Congress and their staff, it is not the first. In 2016, Israel denied Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Dan Kildee (D-MI), Hank Johnson (D-GA), and other former Members of Congress entry into the blockaded Gaza Strip, preventing them from seeing the devastation Israel wrought through three wars and a decade of collective punishment.

And in 2002, I co-led the first-ever jointly sponsored Jewish-Muslim congressional staff delegation to Occupied Palestinian Territory at the height of Israel’s brutal response to the Palestinian uprising. The bipartisan delegation initially was denied entry and threatened with violence by Israeli security forces.

Contrast Israel’s treatment of these Members of Congress and their staff with the lavish, red carpet treatment afforded to nearly 80 visiting Members of Congress this month who attended Potemkin village tours of Israel provided courtesy of the American Israel Education Forum, an affiliated organization of the implacably anti-Palestinian lobbying organization the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

One anonymous senior Jewish Democrat in Congress described the trips as “half Chamber of Commerce, and half propaganda.” The itinerary for a 2014 trip shows a carefully constructed vision of a plucky, exuberant, progressive country tenaciously battling for its existence against the forces of doom surrounding it.

Palestinians are tokenised through a sole furtive visit to an unnamed figure in the Palestinian Authority. Otherwise, their very existence, and certainly the brutality and oppression they experience under Israeli rule, is completely whitewashed from the picture.

No wonder many Members of Congress return from these trips believing that Israel is the best thing invented since sliced bread. And no wonder why AIPAC stalwart Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) spends so much of his energy strong-arming his colleagues to participate in this propaganda rite of passage for first-term representatives.

With every action Israel and its supporters take to suppress the truth, momentum builds to seek it out

By declining to participate in this charade and by organising their own separate congressional delegation, Tlaib and Omar – with their massive number of social media followers and star power within the Democratic Party – threatened to expose the colossal fraud of the AIPAC tour to their colleagues and the country by shining a spotlight on Israel’s oppressive, racist, and discriminatory rule over the Palestinian people.

For this unpardonable and unconscionable act, Israel has barred them from conducting official US government business with the encouragement and admiration of the White House.

However, with every action Israel and its supporters take to suppress the truth, momentum builds to seek it out. Israel’s refusal to allow in Members of Congress will cause many more people in the United States to wonder what it is hiding and many will not like the answer when they discover it.

Josh Ruebner is senior principal at Progress Up Consulting and author of Israel: Democracy or Apartheid State? and Shattered Hopes: Obama’s Failure to Broker Israeli-Palestinian Peace.

Follow him on Twitter: @joshruebner

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