World

Tlaib Renounces Trip to West Bank Under Israel’s Conditions

JERUSALEM — Israel relented slightly on Friday after barring Representative Rashida Tlaib under pressure from President Trump, and said she could visit her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank.

Israel acted after Ms. Tlaib, an outspoken Palestinian-American in her first term, agreed in writing not to promote boycotts against Israel during the trip. But Ms. Tlaib, facing criticism by Palestinians and other opponents of the Israeli occupation, quickly reversed course herself, saying she could not make the trip under “these oppressive conditions.”

“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me,” she said of her grandmother in a Twitter post. “It would kill a piece of me.”

The day’s switchbacks and recriminations appeared to lock in the political effects, in Israel and abroad, of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision Thursday to bar the planned official visit by Ms. Tlaib, of Michigan, and another Democratic lawmaker, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, citing their support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Israelis concerned about the health of the relationship with the United States worried aloud on Friday that by barring members of Congress at all, let alone because of their political views, the Netanyahu government had gravely jeopardized Israel’s bipartisan support in Washington.

“The damage has been done to Israel’s standing in the Democratic Party, and in enhancing the stature of B.D.S. — and I don’t know if it’s over,” said Michael Oren, a former deputy minister under Mr. Netanyahu and former ambassador to the United States.

Those rooting for Mr. Netanyahu to capture a fifth term in September’s election lamented that the episode could play into the hands of detractors on the left and center who have long warned that Mr. Trump’s showering of the prime minister with political gifts — an embassy in Jerusalem, an endorsement of Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights — would eventually come at a price.

Mr. Netanyahu has posted billboards portraying him as Mr. Trump’s peer and declaring that he is in a “different league” from other Israeli leaders.

But by having appeared to knuckle under to Mr. Trump’s pressure, including a tweet saying that allowing the congresswomen into Israel would “show great weakness,” Mr. Netanyahu suddenly looked, in American terms, more like a red-state candidate who might have to swallow an embarrassment or two for the sake of a coveted Trump endorsement.

Mr. Trump took further swipes at Ms. Tlaib on Twitter Friday night, asserting that Israel had been respectful in granting permission for a visit but that she had “grandstanded” in rejecting the offer. “Could this possibly have been a setup?” Mr. Trump asked.

The Israeli-American relationship already has become a particularly divisive campaign issue in both the 2020 presidential race in the United States and the Sept. 17 election in Israel, where Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party is in a neck-and-neck race with its closest rival, the center-left Blue and White alliance.

Under Israel’s parliamentary system, any migration of support from Likud to farther-right parties could threaten Mr. Netanyahu’s ability to retain the premiership.

But Mr. Netanyahu’s allies to the right generally approved of his decision, saying Israel owed its adversaries nothing, regardless of their prominence or high office. And analysts said Likud voters would look past any bowing and scraping because they believed Mr. Trump’s usefulness to Israel was worth it.

Even Blue and White’s candidate, Benny Gantz, faulted Mr. Netanyahu for “zigzagging” on Ms. Tlaib’s visit, and said it had “caused damage internationally,” but said nothing about the prime minister’s fealty to Mr. Trump, who is overwhelmingly popular in Israel, including with the right-of-center voters Mr. Gantz’s party is trying to peel away from Likud.

About the only interested party appearing to have emerged in better shape was the B.D.S. movement itself, which declared that “attempts by Israel’s far-right regime to humiliate @RashidaTlaib failed.”

To reinforce its critique of Israel, the movement circulated an old news clipping reporting on South Africa’s rejection of a visit by a congressman to that country over his outspoken opposition to apartheid.

Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said the decision forced upon Ms. Tlaib was “just the smallest microcosm of the daily humiliations that Palestinians face at the hands of Israeli policies every day, when they are forced to choose between their dignity and their basic rights.”

Because of Ms. Tlaib, he said, “Americans have now had the opportunity to witness it through the eyes of a member of Congress.”

Experts on the Israeli-American relationship said the episode underscored how bipartisan consensus support for Israel’s security and for a two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict were under strain now from the right and the left.

“It’s being threatened by people like the president, who care nothing about two states and are prepared to watch Israel annex the West Bank, create a binational state, and to weaponize support for Israel in America’s partisan political wars,” said Daniel Shapiro, who was President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Israel and is now an analyst at a Tel Aviv research group.

“It’s being challenged by those on the left who care nothing for Israel’s legitimacy and are also willing to forgo two states and to weaken the U.S.-Israel bond, as Israel drifts toward a binational state,” Mr. Shapiro added. The effect, he said, would “ leave those who hew to the traditional positions clinging to narrower ground.”

Overnight, Ms. Tlaib appealed to the Israeli interior minister, Aryeh Deri, to be allowed to see her relatives, particularly her grandmother, who lives in Beit Ur al-Fouqa, a small Palestinian village west of Ramallah.

“This could be my last opportunity to see her,” Ms. Tlaib wrote on congressional letterhead. “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”

“In light of that,” Mr. Deri’s office said on Friday, the minister decided to allow her into Israel and “expressed hope that she would keep her commitment and that the visit would truly be solely for humanitarian purposes.”

Late Friday, after Ms. Tlaib said she would cancel her trip, Mr. Deri said this showed that her intentions were “provocative” and “aimed at bashing the State of Israel.”

“Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother,” Mr. Deri wrote on Twitter.

Ms. Tlaib’s quick initial acceptance of Israel’s conditions for a personal visit raised concerns among some opponents of the Israeli occupation that she had unwittingly set back the cause.

“What is truly upsetting is that @RashidaTlaib fell in this trap and accepted to demean herself and grovel,” Nour Odeh, a political analyst based in Ramallah and a former Palestinian Authority spokeswoman, wrote on Twitter.

Beyond mere appearances, if Ms. Tlaib had held to her promise to refrain from promoting boycotts, it could have been a setback for opponents of an Israeli law that allows the country to deny entry to foreign supporters of the boycott campaign.

When Israel tried last year to use that law to bar an American student, Lara Alqasem, from studying in Jerusalem because she had belonged to a group that supports B.D.S., Israeli officials tried to get her to renounce the campaign and promise not to promote it while in the country.

She refused, despite spending weeks in jail, and instead took the case to the Israeli Supreme Court. Ultimately, Ms. Alqasem was granted a visa that allows the country to eject her if she promotes B.D.S., but she made no promises not to do so, said her lawyer, Leora Bechor.

Ms. Bechor warned that Ms. Tlaib, by having promised in writing not to promote boycotts during her planned visit, had likely given Israel ammunition to demand similar commitments from other Americans who support a boycott of Israel — even those who are married to Israelis or Palestinians and live in the country or on the West Bank.

“She’s creating a situation where families who are not here for a one-week visit, but are living here permanently, are not going to be able to enter unless they renounce all of their activities,” said Ms. Bechor, who said she handles many family reunification cases. “Israel will take advantage of this and say, `If you don’t renounce, you can’t live here anymore.’ ”




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