Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were the first Muslim women in United States history to get a seat in the US Congress. They were elected in November 2018. Both women are members of the Democratic Party and fit in perfectly with their progressive politics.
Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar defend LGBT rights (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender). They also defend laws that legalize abortion and speak out for immigrants. But there is one issue that sets them apart from other members of their own party in Congress, as well as Republican members: Israel.
The boycott controversy
The two women openly denounce Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Only these two members in the US Congress publicly support the Palestinian boycott movement against Israel. Thus Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became the first parliamentarians in US history to be banned from entering Israel.
This contrasts sharply with that of their 72 congressional colleagues who, earlier this month, toured Israel at all costs – an annual event sponsored by lobbyists.
Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib planned to visit Israel and to visit the Palestinian territories under Israeli occupation: East Jerusalem and the West Bank. For Rashida Tlaib, this trip was also an opportunity to visit family members. The grandmother and other relatives of this 42-year-old Palestinian-American lawyer, living in Michigan, live in the West Bank.
After Israel banned her from entering her territory, Rashida Tlaib shared a photo of her grandmother on Twitter, with this message: “Israel’s decision to ban her granddaughter, an American MP, is a sign of weakness because the truth about what is happening to the Palestinians is frightening.”
The fight for civil rights
She also retweeted a message stating that the South African government has denied the famous African-American civil rights activist and politician, Jesse Jackson, to enter South Africa. Rashida Tlaib also described Israel as a “racist” country. It attracts the anger of some people who treat her as anti-Semitic.
In this controversy, she found her best ally in Ilhan Omar, a 38-year-old Minnesota woman wearing a hijab who arrived in the United States in 1995 as a refugee child. She says she considers the ban on entering Israel, for her and Rashida Tlaib, as an “affront”.
Rashida Tlaib finds it ironic that Israel, a country that claims to be “the only democracy” in the Middle East, takes such a decision, which is “an insult to democratic values”. Ilhan Omar’s critics of Israel have been in the spotlight since entering Congress.
Earlier this year, she tweeted an insinuating message that the US-Israeli Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobby known primarily as AIPAC, was using financial incentives to promote a pro-Israel agenda. His comments opened Pandora’s box, his supporters and detractors leading a war on Twitter, against the role of AIPAC in US politics. Both sides were at loggerheads on whether Ilhan Omar was racist towards the Jews or not.
Charges of anti-Semitism
She ended up tweeting “unequivocal excuses”, thanking her colleagues for “educating her about the painful history of antisemitic tropes”. She said her intention was to criticize the lobbyists, not the Jews. This is the second time that this Somali-American woman apologized after being shot for what her critics viewed as an anti-Semitic tweet.
After entering the Congress, one of her 2012 articles resurfaced, in which she wrote: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken people and help them see Israel’s evil deeds.” The tweet coincided with Israel’s “Pillar of Defense” operation against Gaza, in which six Israelis and 158 Palestinians – including at least 30 children and 13 women – died, according to a UN report.
The most vocal of the two women was US President Donald Trump, who had urged Israel to deny them entry. Trump called the two delegates “dishonorable” and said, “it would be a great weakness if Israel allowed Omar and Tlaib to enter her territory.” “They hate Israel and all the Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
An anti-boycott law
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the anti-boycott law was used to ban both US Congresswomen from visiting the country. Under a law that the Netanyahu government passed in 2017, any foreigner who calls for a boycott of Israel – economically, culturally or academically – will be denied an entry visa.
Israel accuses the boycott movement of being a threat to their existence, a view widely shared by members of both poles of the US Congress. The two delegates reject accusations that it is anti-Semitic to call for a boycott.