The first two Muslim women in Congress sharply criticized President Donald Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after a trip to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories was canceled once the two lawmakers were denied entry for supporting a boycott of Israel.
At a news conference in Minnesota on Monday, Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar – alongside Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan – made an emotional plea for her congressional colleagues to also visit the region as part of their role of congressional oversight for $3 billion in foreign aid.
“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,” said Omar, who represents a district in Minnesota. “We cannot let Trump and Netanyahu succeed in hiding the cruel reality of the occupation from us. So 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. We must end it together.”
Tlaib, who is the first Palestinian-American woman to serve in Congress, was later granted entry to visit the Palestinian territories to visit her grandmother who lives in the West Bank. Tlaib declined to visit citing the conditions placed on her entry by the Israeli government and the trip was canceled.
On Monday, Tlaib spoke about visits she took to Palestine as a young girl to visit her grandmother. When she spoke about her mother and herself having to go through “dehumanizing checkpoints,” Tlaib grew visibly emotional.
“As a young girl visiting Palestine to see my grandparents and extended family I watched as my mother had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints, even though she was a United States citizen and proud American,” Tlaib said.
Last week, Israel barred Tlaib and Omar, after Trump tweeted that allowing them would show “great weakness.” Israel’s decision to bar their entry and Trump’s encouragement of the move was a remarkable step both by the US President and his ally Netanyahu to punish political opponents.
“Netanyahu’s decision to deny us entry might be unprecedented for members of Congress, but it is the policy of his government when it comes to Palestinians,” Omar said. “This is the policy of his government when it comes to anyone who holds views that threaten the occupation. A policy that has been edged on and supported by Trump’s administration, that’s because the only way to preserve unjust policy is to suppress people’s freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of movement.”
Members of Congress regularly take congressional delegation trips to Israel.
House Democratic lawmakers want answers about Israel’s decision to bar the two lawmakers’ entry and are considering potential oversight action targeting the US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, according to a House Democratic aide.
The aide said there is a potential that Democrats could request the opening of an inspector general investigation into Friedman and some members are even pushing for a congressional oversight inquiry focused on the US ambassador.
Separately, House aides confirm to CNN that there are conversations going on right now about what their next steps should be, and it is an active debate, as one aide described it.
Friedman has publicly supported the decision. He tweeted earlier this month, “Israel properly enacted laws to bar entry of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) activists under the circumstances present here and it has every right to protect its borders against those activists in the same manner as it would bar entrants with more conventional weapons.”
CNN’s Sunlen Serfaty and Oren Leiberman contributed to this report.