Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Michagin Rep. Rashida Tlaib responded to Israel’s decision to deny the two entry into the county for a planned visit at a press conference in St. Paul on Monday.
President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that the two congresswomen, both of whom are Muslim, should not be allowed in because of their criticism of Israel's right-wing policies under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Omar and Talib are supporters of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, also known as BDS, which calls for Israel to be held to account under international law for its occupation of the West Bank and treatment of Palestinian refugees, among other things.
Omar claimed the move barring the pair was an attempt to quiet this opposition.
“The only way to preserve unjust policy is to suppress people’s freedom of expression, freedom of organization and freedom of movement,” she said at the press conference.
After being denied, Tlaib argued she was going to visit her Palestinian grandmother on the West Bank. The Israeli government eventually did grant this request provided she didn't promote her support of the boycott during her trip, but Tlaib said she would not visit the country under Israel’s terms.
“Visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions meant to humiliate me would break my grandmother’s heart,” Tlaib said in a statement.
Omar and Tlaib would have met with Israeli leadership and military. The two noted that other Congressmen frequently visit the area.
“Such delegations are common occurrences for members of congress,” Tlaib said.
Members of Congress should look critically at the Israeli government's actions, Omar said. Given the aid the U.S. provides Israel, barring Omar and Tlaib’s delegation was not justified, she added.
“This is predicated on them being an ally and being the only democracy in the Middle East,” she said. “Denying entry to members of congress is not consistent with being an ally.”
The congresswomen also brought up guest speakers to talk about personal experiences. One of those speakers was Minnesota resident Lana Barkawi, a Palestinian American whose family decided not to visit family members in Palestine several years ago because they did not feel welcome given the entry process.
“Under Israel’s laws, the decision to allow or deny our entry would have been made by heavily armed soldiers,” Barkawi said. “Ultimately, we did not attempt to visit.”
Carin Mrotz, Executive Director, of Jewish Community Action Minnesota, also spoke in support of Omar and Tlaib. She said Trump’s actions were meant to divide Muslims and Jews.
“Our community has been used as a tool by those who pretend to be concerned about our safety,” she said.