Michigan Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib Cancels Her Trip To Israel
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
It was off, it was on, and now it's off again. Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib now says she will not go visit her grandmother in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. She said Israeli restrictions on her visit, which she had accepted last night, were meant to humiliate her. All of this unfolded after a tweet from President Trump urging Israel to block Tlaib and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from making the trip, which had been planned for this weekend. Trump said it would show weakness if Israel let in people so critical of the country. Now the recriminations are echoing from the U.S. to Israel.
NPR's Daniel Estrin joins us now from Tel Aviv. Hey, Daniel.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Hello.
CHANG: So it seemed like this was a bit of a dilemma for Tlaib. Israel said she could make the trip as long as it was a personal trip to visit her grandmother, but she decided not to go anyway. Why was that?
ESTRIN: She said that she had to write a letter to the Israeli government that she would not advocate a boycott of Israel while she was on her trip. And she said that it was really important for her to see her 90-year-old grandmother, that maybe it would be the last time she'd get to see her and that her grandmother was looking forward to picking figs with her from her fig tree in her West Bank village.
But then what happened was that Palestinian activists got very upset that she agreed to the Israeli restrictions not to advocate a boycott of Israel while she was visiting. Even one of the organizers of her trip with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar tweeted that what's truly upsetting is that Rashida Tlaib fell into this trap and accepted to demean herself and grovel, is what she wrote.
ESTRIN: And so what then happened was that Congresswoman Tlaib said that she realized that Israel was silencing her and that she could not trade a visit with her grandmother for the ability to condemn what she called human rights violations of the Israeli government toward Palestinians.
CHANG: And I understand that you have heard from one of Tlaib's relatives there. How is her family reacting to all of this?
ESTRIN: Yeah, we spoke with her uncle in the West Bank. And he said that the whole village was preparing for her visit, very excited that she was coming. But then when she said that she wasn't, the family had mixed feelings. They felt sad that she wasn't going to be visiting, but they were happy that she refused Israel's conditions for her visit. And this uncle told us that Israel's ban on her and the other congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, was trying to hide the realities of Palestinian life under Israel's military occupation.
CHANG: And how has Israel responded to this latest round, to Tlaib's accusations that these restrictions were meant to humiliate her?
ESTRIN: Well, Israel's interior minister was the one who granted that request to visit her grandmother. And he said he did it out of goodwill, and then when she rejected it, he said, it's clear she was just trying to bash Israel. And he tweeted, apparently, her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.
ESTRIN: So pretty harsh.
ESTRIN: I mean, the original reason that Israel said it was banning her and Ilhan Omar was because they support a pro-Palestinian movement to boycott Israel. And there's a law in Israel that allows authorities to ban advocates of a boycott.
CHANG: Right. How have people in Israel been taking all of this in? I mean, have you seen a divide over how Prime Minister Netanyahu and the rest of the government has been handling this?
ESTRIN: It doesn't really seem to be dominating conversation here. I mean, there is an Israeli election coming up, and Netanyahu's opponents are using this to kind of accuse him of flip-flopping. But I think it really shows that, as Netanyahu faces reelection next month, he needs Trump's support. Trump tweeted that he didn't want to see these congresswomen going there, and I think a lot of Israelis see that as Netanyahu bowing to Trump's will.
CHANG: That's NPR's Daniel Estrin in Tel Aviv.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
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