JERUSALEM (AP) – Israel said Friday it has granted a request by Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib to enter the West Bank on humanitarian grounds to visit her relatives, a day after Israel barred her and another congresswoman following an unprecedented request from President Donald Trump.
Tlaib and fellow Democrat, Rep. Ilhan Omar, had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank next week on a tour partly organized by a Palestinian group. The two are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and support the international movement boycotting Israel.
The two newly elected Muslim members of Congress have also sparred with Trump, who tweeted before the decision that it would be a “show of weakness” to allow them in. Israel controls entry and exit points to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Mideast war along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories the Palestinians want for a future state.
On Friday, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri announced the latest twist – that Tlaib had requested and been granted permission to enter the West Bank to see relatives, including her 90-year-old grandmother. The American-born Tlaib’s family immigrated from the West Bank.
Deri’s office published what it said was Tlaib’s written request, on congressional stationary dated Thursday, in which she said she wanted to visit her grandmother, who is in her 90s.
“This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit,” she said.
Shortly after the announcement, however, Tlaib tweeted that she wouldn’t allow Israel to use her love for her grandmother to force her to “bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.” It was not clear if she was rejecting the offer to visit.
“When I won, it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she wrote.
Deri’s office said he decided to allow Tlaib’s entry, and “hopes she will stand by her commitment and that the visit will be for humanitarian needs only.”
Tlaib’s office could not immediately be reached for comment on the letter’s authenticity.
Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization whose Miftah group had organized the original congressional visit, said she was not involved in the latest request.
“Miftah does not sponsor personal or individual or humanitarian visits nor do we intervene on behalf of any such petitions. As we announced yesterday, our delegation’s visit has been postponed until such time as all Congressional participants can have free access to Palestine,” she tweeted.
Trump’s request to a foreign country to bar the entry of elected U.S. officials – and Israel’s decision to do so – were unprecedented and drew widespread criticism, including from many Israelis as well as staunch supporters of Israel in Congress. Critics said it risked turning Israel into a partisan issue and threatened to undermine ties between the close allies.
Tlaib and Omar are known as supporters of “boycott, divestment and sanctions,” or BDS, a Palestinian-led global movement. Supporters say the movement is a non-violent way of protesting Israel’s military rule over the occupied territories, but Israel says it aims to delegitimize the state and eventually wipe it off the map.
Tlaib and Omar are also part of the “squad” of liberal newcomers – all women of color – whom Trump has labeled as the face of the Democratic Party as he runs for re-election. He subjected them to a series of racist tweets last month in which he called on them to “go back” to their “broken” countries. Both are American citizens.
With his latest move, Trump brought a longtime U.S. ally into a domestic dispute, essentially relying on Israel to retaliate against Tlaib and Omar after they had criticized him. It marked a glaring departure from the tradition of American politicians leaving domestic disputes at the water’s edge.
For Israel, the willingness to side so pointedly with Trump marks a deeper foray into America’s bitterly polarized politics and risks its relationship with Congress.
Israel announced the ban Thursday after Trump tweeted that “it would show great weakness” if the two were allowed to visit. Asked later if he had spoken to Netanyahu, he said, “I did talk to people over there,” without elaborating.
Omar, who became the first Somali-American elected to Congress, denounced the ban on her and Tlaib’s tour as “an affront” and “an insult to democratic values.”
In Israel, Netanyahu said Thursday that his country remains “open to critics and criticism,” except for those who advocate boycotts against it.