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Diana Alghoul

The Palestine Brief: How Israel shot itself in the foot by banning Omar and Tlaib

Palestine remains high on the agenda for Omar and Tlaib [Getty]

Date of publication: 20 August, 2019

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While banning congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Israel was done out of racism, the reactions that followed has been working in their and Palestine's favour.
Last year, two women made history when they became the first Muslim women to be elected into the United States congress.

Palestinian-American Rashida Tlaib and Somali-American Ilhan Omar won in spite of US President Donald Trump spewing populist xenophobic discourse – with Muslims being among his targets – that gaslight the two candidates.

After their landmark victory, they had to continue their fight with their identity and politics being held against them from all angles. Omar was forced to apologise for criticising the Israeli lobby after she was subject to vicious smears accusing her of anti-Semitism.

Both then continued to face a tirade of racism – including being told to go back to their own countries by their own president.

Ironically, when Tlaib did try to go back on an official visit, she was barred from doing so.

Last month,she put forward a bill endorsing the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement – a non-violent form of Palestinian activism that Israel has worked especially hard to squash, Omar announced her plans to visit Israel. Hours later, it was revealed that Tlaib would be joining her.

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Days after the announcement, Israel said it will allow the dynamic pair to visit "out of respect". Just before they were due to arrive late last week, they were banned under pressure from Trump.

"It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!" he tweeted before Israel's decision was publicised.

Exposing Israel's racism

The ban sparked outrage across the world. People were livid at the Trump administration's decision to pressure Israel to change their mind.

AIPAC, one of the most notorious pro-Israel lobbies in the US was among the first to criticise Trump and Netanyahu's decision to ban the two from entering Israel. They did it not out of unease at an injustice, but out of fear of Israel's image, which the lobby group works tirelessly to polish.

"We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib's support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib's calls for a one-state solution," the organisation said in a tweet on Thursday.

"We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."

For Palestinians, however, the ban was less of an embarrassment and more confirmation of the oppression they have been subjected to for decades.

"Israel, being the illegal occupying power of Palestine, has no right to impose such a ban on Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar, who wanted to visit Palestine and see, first-hand, the reality of occupation under which Palestinians live. This trip was their right and duty as members of Congress, who oversee US policies and actions that affect Palestine, Israel, and countries worldwide," Hanan Ashrawi, an executive member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation said

A Palestinian citizen of Israel in the Israeli Knesset also spoke out against the ban, saying the only reason Israel would ban politicians from entering is because they are aware of their guilt.

"A country with nothing to hide wouldn't have banned the entrance of two members of Congress. Another desperate attempt to hide reality from the world and mainly from ourselves," Ayman Odeh tweeted.

A viral hashtag, named #MyPalestinianSitty, even emerged which was inspired by Tlaib and her grandmother refusing to bow down to Israeli demands.

Tlaib submitted a special humanitarian request to be allowed to visit her 90-year-old grandmother but later on decided not to go because she would have only been allowed to enter on the condition of not advocating the boycott of Israel.

Thousands of Palestinians used the hashtag to raise awareness of the oppression that has persisted for generations.

Sitty is Arabic for grandmother in the Palestinian dialect.

Thorn in the establishment's side

Neither Tlaib, nor Omar entered US politics to remain on the outskirts of respectability. For them, they made it clear very early on it was a necessity to make a difference.

"I went to a school that was predominantly black and Latino; a diverse community. I can't remove that lens and I feel like I've become a better Muslima, and a better public servant because of it," Tlaib told The New Arab during her campaign.

Their white supremacist opponents saw they were serious early on, embarking on a racist mission to break them.

If anything, racist smears used against them to silence them has done the complete opposite – it has emboldened them. 

One of the ways they are both shunned is by being accused of forgetting about their districts and only entering Congress for "their people back home".

The responses to their social media posts are often filled with their opponents accusing them of "not being American enough" and not caring about those whom they represent in the American political machine.

Last week, Tlaib responded one article that supported her message, but called her out for allegedly shunning black people in her district, recommending she "connect the dots with the struggles in Detroit, Palestine and Israel – so she can still help the Palestinian cause while reassuring her constituents in Detroit that she's got their best interest at heart". 

Her reply debunked the criticism, saying her passion for Palestine came from learning about what it means to live under injustice from her black teachers.

"The problem isn't about connecting the struggles of the Palestinian people to my residents at home. I do that every day, because my black teachers in Detroit Public Schools taught me about the pain of oppression here at home and abroad," she wrote.

With not much left to lose, the two have bolstered their pro-Palestine discourse, even anticipating that liberation will come soon.

Responding to a tweet by a Bethlehem-based Christian group which challenges Evangelical views on Israel expressing disappointment in the decision, Tlaib responded with a bold tweet planning a visit to Palestine after liberation.

Whilst it may seem the ban to enter Israel is a setback for the two Muslim lawmakers, the wave of events that followed have actually worked in their favour of achieving their aim to expose Israel's systematic racism.

The case of Tlaib and Omar is yet another stamp in Israel's passport of subjugation with Palestinians having yet another chance to show the world how intolerant Israel is to people calling for justice.


Diana Alghoul is a journalist at The New Arab.


Follow her on Twitter: @SuperKnafeh

The Palestine Brief is a new regular feature at The New Arab.

Click below to see the full archive.



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