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‘The occupation is real’: Tlaib, Omar slam Israel for decision to bar delegation, hint at cutting military aid

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US Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib doubled down on their criticisms of the Israeli government for denying them entry to the country, with Omar hinting that Congress should reconsider the billions of dollars in annual military aid given to Israel in light of the move against the democratic representatives.

The two congresswomen held a press conference on Monday in St. Paul, Minnesota, Omar’s home state, to formally address the Israeli government’s decision, which sparked nationwide outcry last week.

“All of America should be deeply distrubed,” Tlaib said, directly referencing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and US President Donald Trump, who vocally supported the barring of the congresswomen.

“The decision to ban me and my colleagues, the first two Muslim American women elected to congress is nothing more than an attempt by an ally of the United States to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials,” Omar told a room of journalists and local Jewish and Palestinian-American activists.

During her remarks, Omar referenced the $3.8 billion dollars the US gives to Israel every year for military aid — something that some Democrats like Bernie Sanders and Pete Buttigieg have suggested leveraging against the Israeli government to pressure the latter to change its policies, specifically towards Palestinians.

“Fortunately, we the United States have a constructive role to play,” Omar said, as she went on to mention the military aid.

“This [aid] is predicated on their being an important ally in the region and the only democracy in the Middle East,” she continued, saying that denying visits to members of Congress “is not consistent with being an ally.”

“Any denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self-determination is not consistent with being a democracy.”

The issue was brought up again by Omar later in the conference, when she 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.”

Throughout their remarks and the subsequent testimonies of their Palestinian and Jewish constituents, both Tlaib and Omar were brought to tears, with the former sharing a more personal side of the issue, recounting stories of traveling to the occupied West Bank to visit family as a young girl.

“I watched as my mother had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints,” Tlaib told the crowd as her voice cracked, “even though she was a United States Citizen and proud American.”

“I remember shaking with fear when checkpoints appeared in our small village, tanks and guns everywhere,” she said.

When asked why Tlaib declined an offer by the Israeli government to visit her grandmother on a highly restrictive “humanitarian” trip, she told journalists she came to the decision after a long conversation with her family in the West Bank.

“My grandmother said, I am her dream manifested. I am her free bird,” Tlaib said fighting back tears. “So why would I go back to being caged?”

The pair also addressed the public attacks on MIFTAH, the Palestinian NGO that was sponsoring the trip, which pro-Israel and right-wing voices in the US have alleged is a “terror-linked group.”

Tlaib told reporters that herself and Omar that the decision to work with MIFTAH was based on the fact that other congressional members had taken trips, similar to the one they had planned, to the occupied West Bank under the sponsorship of MIFTAH.

“We were as taken aback as you are that people are now questioning that,” Tlaib told journalists, saying that the attacks on MIFTAH were “just distractions.”

“I think the focus is hiding the truth, hiding that the occupation is happening,” she continued. “Us setting foot there would basically bring attention to something many of us feel is very much against international human rights.”

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

“I call on all of you to go. The occupation is real. Barring members of Congress from seeing it does not make it go away.”

Michael Arria contributed to this report.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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18 Responses

  1. CigarGod on August 20, 2019, 11:41 am

    Next time, she could linger on the “only democracy” line and point out that according to The Economist Democracy Index, the USA is now listed as a Flawed Democracy…and Israel is ranked even lower.

  2. JWalters on August 20, 2019, 6:22 pm

    As former Senator James Abourezk wrote,

    “I can tell you from personal experience that, at least in the Congress, the support Israel has in that body is based completely on political fear — fear of defeat by anyone who does not do what Israel wants done. I can also tell you that very few members of Congress—at least when I served there—have any affection for Israel or for its Lobby. What they have is contempt, but it is silenced by fear of being found out exactly how they feel. I’ve heard too many cloakroom conversations in which members of the Senate will voice their bitter feelings about how they’re pushed around by the Lobby to think otherwise. In private one hears the dislike of Israel and the tactics of the Lobby, but not one of them is willing to risk the Lobby’s animosity by making their feelings public.”

  3. pabelmont on August 20, 2019, 6:49 pm

    This story only gets better and better. MIFTAH helped other congresspeople and no-one objected? And now they object? Do they say that MIFTAH changed in the meantime? Or is it the usual hasbara?

    • Misterioso on August 21, 2019, 10:15 am

      Short video, preceded by a commercial:
      “Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Rep. Ilhan Omar speak about Israel travel controversy”
      WXYZ Detroit, August 19/19

      “Days after Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) cancelled a joint trip to Israel, the congresswomen are expected to hold a press conference in Washington Monday.

      “Omar said she planned to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian officials. She claims her visit was similar to those other congress people have made in the past.

      “Omar said Israel’s decision to block the first two Muslim congresswomen from visiting the country was nothing less than an ‘American ally suppressing out ability to do our jobs as elected officials.’

      “Tlaib teared up as she told the story of her grandmother, who currently lives in the West Bank of Israel.

      “‘It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu took a page out of Trump’s book,’ Tlaib said of Netanyahu’s decision to block Omar and Tlaib’s visit.

      “Last week, Israel briefly blocked Tlaib and Omar’s visit to the country, citing a sponsor of the trip’s support of sanctions against the country. Israel later announced it would allow Tlaib to visit, but she declined the offer.

      “Israel said it was blocking the visit because a sponsor of the tip was a group that has supported sanctions and boycotts against the country. Israel took action to ban the visit after President Donald Trump sent a tweet encouraging Israel to do so.

      “Tlaib has said she was planning on visiting her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank of Israel.”

      • Talkback on August 22, 2019, 6:12 am

        Oh, so the Wesbank is allready the “West Bank of Israel”. More journalistic incompetene.

  4. Misterioso on August 21, 2019, 9:42 am

    Words of wisdom:

    “Israel Is Not America’s Ally” by Daniel Larison, The American Conservative, March 8/19

    “Andrew Sullivan comments on the U.S.-Israel relationship and the role of ‘pro-Israel’ lobbying groups in our politics in a new essay. There are several things that I think Sullivan gets wrong, but perhaps the most significant and pervasive error in the piece is his repeated description of the relationship an ‘alliance.’ He notes that the U.S. gets nothing in return for the extensive military and diplomatic support that it provides, he acknowledges that the U.S. ‘suffers internationally’ on account of its close relationship with Israel, and he marvels at how badly its government under Netanyahu has behaved towards the U.S. Nonetheless, he writes, ‘I would defend the alliance despite this, because of my core belief in a Jewish state.’ The trouble with all this is that there is no alliance and Israel is not our ally. Its government does not behave as an ally does, it has never fought alongside U.S. forces in any of our foreign wars, and its interests are not aligned with ours as an ally’s should be. There is no formal treaty and no binding obligations that require our governments to do anything for the other.

    “There are few words in U.S. foreign policy debates used more frequently and with less precision than ally and alliance. Our politicians and pundits use these terms to refer to almost every state with which the U.S. has some kind of security relationship, and it always grossly exaggerates the nature and extent of the ties between our governments. The exaggeration in Israel’s case is greatest of all because it is routinely called our ‘most important ally’ in the region, or even our ‘most cherished ally’ in all the world. These are ideological assertions that are not grounded in any observable reality. Dozens of other states all over the world are better allies to the United States than the ‘most cherished ally’ is, and they don’t preside over an illegal occupation that implicates the U.S. in decades of abuses and crimes against the Palestinian people living under that occupation, but none of them enjoys the lockstep, uncritical backing that this one state does. The effect of this constant repetition is to make the U.S.-Israel relationship seem extremely important to U.S. interests when it is not, and that serves to promote the ‘illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists.’ [From George Washington’s Farewell Address] It is this illusion as much as anything else that prevents a serious reassessment of the relationship.

    “Israel is one of America’s regional clients, and it is the one that the U.S. indulges more than any other, but that is all that it is. As such, it receives far more support than it needs to and far more than makes sense for the U.S. to give, and the overwhelming political support that the relationship has is out of all proportion to the value of the relationship to the United States. In fact, like several other regional clients Israel has increasingly become a liability for the U.S., and the relationship should be changed accordingly.”

  5. Elizabeth Block on August 21, 2019, 10:23 am

    Trump’s comment that Rashida’s grandmother was lucky, because now she didn’t have to have a visit from her granddaughter – that struck me as reaching a new level of horribleness, even for Trump. Pure malice. I’d call it evil. Not just stupid, mendacious, narcissistic, etc. Evil.

    • Mooser on August 21, 2019, 1:59 pm

      Trumps latest, questioning the loyalty (to Israel, as he explained later) of American Jews who vote for Democrats, is quite something.

      • eljay on August 21, 2019, 2:12 pm

        || Mooser: Trumps latest, questioning the loyalty (to Israel, as he explained later) of American Jews who vote for Democrats, is quite something. ||

        I’m sure it’s nothing Boris’ “strong fighting Jews” can’t fix.

  6. genesto on August 21, 2019, 12:52 pm

    TODIME (The Only Democracy in the Middle East) is truly regretting its mistake, now that presidential candidates and congressional representatives are openly threatening to withdraw military aid to it. The Holy Grail is at risk, finally, and this may TRULY mark the beginning of the end of the overarching influence enjoyed by the Zionist entity over our our government for far too long!

    Get the champagne ready!

  7. RobertHenryEller on August 21, 2019, 3:17 pm

    Instead of cutting U.S. military aid to Israel the U.S. should use those funds to invade Israel/Palestine, occupy everyone, demobilize both sides, reset the borders where they were in 1948, give everyone the option to stay where they are or move, wherever they will pledge to live in peace, and fund a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild – and make Israel pay for the Marshall Plan.

    Probably cost more than $4 billion a year we toss away to Israel now. But I suspect we’d be able to save all that and more all around the rest of the Middle East, NOT supporting Israeli internal and external aggression.

    Sounds soundly CONSERVATIVE to me.

    • genesto on August 21, 2019, 8:17 pm

      Actually, when you factor in the $6-$8 we’ve squandered in ME conflicts, caused in great part by our ‘relationship’ with our dear friend, and the trillions more we are likely to spend as long as Israel is calling our shots in the region, your proposal is actually a bargain by comparison.

  8. oldgeezer on August 21, 2019, 9:52 pm

    It’s no big deal if they lose the aid. Zionists always tell us all the time that they dont need it and it’s really only a subsidy for US manufacturers. Now they’ve shown they don’t want it. So it should be cut. Granted it never should have been in existence on any moral basis.

  9. Vera Gottlieb on August 22, 2019, 10:40 am

    Stop adulating israel! From the Warsaw ghetto to the Gaza ghetto.

  10. Mayhem on September 2, 2019, 10:02 am

    “I watched as my mother had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints,” Tlaib told the crowd as her voice cracked, “even though she was a United States Citizen and proud American.”

    “I remember shaking with fear when checkpoints appeared in our small village, tanks and guns everywhere,” she said.

    She knows only too well the vital need for checkpoints yet she makes out that they are dehumanizing; she really is a devious manipulator of reality. Checkpoints save lives but Tlaib doesn’t want to think about that. I’m sure she’d love to board a plane without going through security beforehand.

    • echinococcus on September 2, 2019, 12:39 pm

      More dishonest, criminal Z-propaganda that some liberals swallow:

      “She knows only too well the vital need for checkpoints….”

      There is no such need, “vital” or mortal. Invaders have no right to be anywhere in Palestine, river to the sea. Period.

    • Talkback on September 3, 2019, 5:36 am

      Mayhem: “She knows only too well the vital need for checkpoints …”

      It’s about protecting Jewish colonization of occupied terrorites which is neither vital nor legal. A gun can also be a “vital need” for any criminal.

      Mayhem: “Checkpoints save lives …”

      Sure. Only Jewish lives matter.

      That’s how twisted your dehumanizing and disenfranchising logic is. Imagine the Germans would have said that they have a “vital need” to get rid of Jews and putting Jews in concentration camps “saves lives”.

  11. gamal on September 7, 2019, 10:02 am

    “I call on all of you to go. The occupation is real. Barring members of Congress from seeing it does not make it go away.”

    I think Tlaib and Omar could do worse than check the linked artist for a theme song…Ireland surprises me you don’t see too many Divas perform in Hijab.

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