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Reversing Earlier Ban, Israel Permits Limited Visit For Rep. Rashida Tlaib


Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib says, no, she will not visit Israel and the West Bank after all. First, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu blocked her and Representative Ilhan Omar from entry. But Israel then offered Rashida Tlaib the chance to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, and then she accepted. Long - not long after that, though, she changed her mind and said visiting under these conditions that Israel had required would humiliate her.

Joining us now from Jerusalem - NPR's Daniel Estrin to talk more about this. Hi, Daniel.


MARTIN: A lot of back-and-forth in this story - can you start by just explaining what Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said in her statement today?

ESTRIN: Yes. She said she had to write a letter to the Israeli government in order to visit her 90-year-old grandmother, and she said that she wrote that she would accept Israeli restrictions on her visit and would agree not to advocate a boycott of Israel while she was visiting. And then after Israel granted her request, Palestinian activists objected to her accepting Israel's conditions for the visit, and that's when she announced she wouldn't go at all. She said Israel was silencing her, humiliating her. She said she wouldn't allow her grandmother to be a political bargaining chip. And she said, quote, "racism and the politics of hate is thriving in Israel."

MARTIN: So others disagree with that. We spoke earlier today, though, with someone who had been on her side, Nour Odeh, who's with the Palestinian group that had helped organize Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar's trip in the first place. Let's listen to what she said.

NOUR ODEH: Palestinians of all walks of life are put in the impossible situation of having to choose between championing their principles, between defending their cause for freedom, between speaking their mind and enjoying the basic humanitarian conditions that everybody is entitled to, including having access to their families.

MARTIN: I mean, this is a pretty common sentiment, isn't it, Daniel?

ESTRIN: Well, Palestinian Americans say it is. They say what Tlaib experienced rings true to them. I spoke to one Palestinian American man today. He said he grew up coming on visits to see his aunts in the West Bank. And he'd show up at the West Bank border, which is controlled by Israel, and Israeli officers would question him, asking him, are you involved politically? Are your Palestinian relatives politically involved? And now he's living and working in the West Bank. And he says he has to get a military permit renewed every couple of months. And he's worried that his permit could get revoked, so he says he censors himself. He's careful of the political statements he makes in public.

MARTIN: So can we just back up and try to understand Israel's position or at least the position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu? He said he initially barred both of these American lawmakers because - and now I'm quoting here - "the sole purpose of their trip is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it." Can you explain what that means? How were they doing so?

ESTRIN: Well, Netanyahu is citing an Israeli law that bans those who advocate a boycott of Israel. And he's talking about the BDS movement. That's the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. And proponents of that movement say it's a nonviolent way of protesting Israeli policies toward Palestinians. But Israel says this is a movement that wants to delegitimize Israel as a Jewish state and delegitimize Israel's right to exist. Now, indeed, these Congresswomen are supportive of the boycott movement. They're the minority that does so in the Democratic Party.

MARTIN: Let's talk about what this - all this back-and-forth means about the relationship between President Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu because President Trump actually tweeted out that if Israel allowed these lawmakers - his political rivals, we should say - into Israel, that it was going to make Israel look weak. And then Benjamin Netanyahu bans them. I mean, what does that say about how reliant these two have become on one another for their own domestic politics?

ESTRIN: Well, I think you've hit the nail on the head there. I mean, in a way, Netanyahu and Trump need each other. Netanyahu is running for reelection next month, and Trump plays a very big role in that. In the last election, just a few months ago, Trump gave Netanyahu a lot of support. He invited Netanyahu to the White House. He even recognized Israel's annexation of the Golan Heights. And now Netanyahu needs Trump's support even more because he's weaker politically at this moment.

And then Trump might need Netanyahu's backing for the 2020 election to help him with his evangelical pro-Israel base. So there is a real kind of lockstep support Netanyahu shows Trump. I will say that Israel claims that it, at first, was going to let these congresswomen in, but then when they reexamined their itinerary, they said that it was just going to turn into a media circus. And they claimed that Trump had nothing to do with it.

MARTIN: So is this done now? I mean, what's the next step here? What are Israeli officials saying at this point about Rashida Tlaib's now rejection of the exception that the Israeli government was going to make for her?

ESTRIN: Right. Well, it looks like Tlaib will not be coming. And Israel's interior minister, who approved her request to come visit her grandmother, has tweeted, I - that he reprove - approved the request as a gesture of goodwill, but now it looks like it was just a provocative request aimed at bashing the state of Israel. And I do want to mention, also, we spoke to Tlaib's uncle, who said the whole village in the West Bank was preparing for this visit, called her the pride of the family, and they have mixed feelings that she's not coming now but happy that she didn't accept the Israeli demands for the visit.

MARTIN: NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Thank you, Daniel.

ESTRIN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Daniel Estrin is NPR's international correspondent in Jerusalem.