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Israel is the 'best place for Arabs' in the Middle East, claims Netanyahu rival

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar were barred from visiting the West Bank [Star Tribune/Getty]

Date of publication: 10 September, 2019

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Benny Gantz has said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a mistake in barring Muslim congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from the West Bank.

Benny Gantz said on Monday that if United States Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar had been allowed to visit the West Bank, they would have seen it is the "second best place" for Arabs in the Middle East.

The Kahol Lavan leader also said his election rival, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should not have barred the two Democratic representatives from visiting, Haaretz reported.

"The best place to be an Arab in the Middle East is in Israel ... and the second best place to be an Arab in the Middle East is the West Bank," Gantz said at an English-language event in Tel Aviv.

The politican said Omar and Tlaib should have been granted entry to "see with their own eyes" that this is the case - unless of course one is a Saudi billionare. 

Gantz also said that "everybody who cooperates with BDS is operating against the State of Israel" and called the movement "a form of anti-Semitism".

Omar and Tlaib sharply criticised Israel in Auguster after they were denied entry to the Jewish state for supporting BDS and called on fellow members of Congress to visit while they cannot.

Omar, of Minnesota, suggested President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu were suppressing the lawmakers' ability to carry out their oversight role.

"I would encourage my colleagues to visit, meet with the people we were going to meet with, see the things we were going to see, hear the stories we were going to hear," Omar said at a news conference. "We cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us."

At Trump's urging, Israel denied entry to Congress' first two Muslim congresswomen over their support for the Palestinian-led boycott movement.

Tlaib and Omar, who had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank on a tour organised by a Palestinian group, are outspoken critics of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Tlaib said she had considered accepting Israeli demands to not engage in politics so that she could travel to the West Bank and visit her grandmother, who is around 90-years-old.

"She said I'm her dream manifested, I'm her free bird, so why would I come back and be caged and bow down, when my election rose her head up high, gave her dignity for the first time?" Tlaib told reporters.

Read also: Palestinians share stories of resilient grandmothers in solidarity with Rashida Tlaib

"And so through tears, at 3:00 in the morning, we all decided as a family that I could not go until I was a free United States congresswoman."

Tlaib pointed out that it is common for US lawmakers to visit Israel and meet a wide range of activists.

"What is not common occurrence is members of Congress being barred from entering a country on these fact-finding missions unless they agree to strict set of rules," she said.

"It is unfortunate that Prime Minister Netanyahu is apparently taking a page out of Trump's book, and even direction from Trump, to deny this opportunity," she said.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said Israel "is open to all visitors and all criticism," but barred entry to Omar and Tlaib over their support for Israel boycotts.

Comment: Israel's Tlaib-Omar ban enacts a signature practice of non-democratic states

The Israeli premier faces his rival Gantz in elections scheduled for September 17.

Netanyahu and his right-wing and religious allies won the most seats in an April election but another election was called after they failed to forge a viable coalition.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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