By Jonathan Ofir
Yesterday afternoon, Israel’s Minister of the Interior Aryeh Deri tweeted:
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib has just tweeted that she will not come to Israel. Yesterday she sent me a letter where she asked to be permitted to visit her grandmother who is 90, “because it can be my last opportunity to meet her”. I authorized this humanitarian trip, but it turns out that it was a provocation to embarrass Israel. Her hatred for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother.
Israel had offered Tlaib a special permit on “humanitarian grounds” to visit her Palestinian family in the occupied Palestinian West Bank. But it entailed the condition that she “not promote boycotts against Israel”. So Tlaib decided not to enter Israel.
Tlaib had planned to visit Palestine on a Congressional delegation tour with Rep. Ilhan Omar this coming week. Israel had declared last month that they would be allowed in despite their support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the U.S., said they would be let in out of “respect for Congress”, even though Israel has a law from 2017 barring foreign advocates of the movement.
Then came the outrageous news on Thursday that they would be barred anyway. Israel left an opening: it would potentially allow Tlaib entry on ‘humanitarian grounds’ to see family. Aryeh Deri’s Ministry of the Interior, which announced the official ban, said it would consider letting Tlaib enter Israel in order to visit her relatives in the West Bank, “if a request is filed on behalf of Mrs. Tlaib to meet her family members for humanitarian reasons, subject to necessary commitments.”
So Tlaib penned a letter, pledging to respect the “conditions” imposed by Israel, promising “not to promote the cause of the boycott of Israel during her stay”.
This is a conundrum that Palestinians have to face daily – being censored, being subjugated to “conditions” at the whim and mercy of the Israeli master. For anyone who is not as personally involved as Tlaib, with family and all, this policy is so obnoxious, that boycott appears to be the only logical and moral response. But if you have these ties, it becomes more complex.
Then Tlaib had second thoughts. She tweeted:
Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what [my grandmother] wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.
Tlaib also released a more elaborate statement later, saying among else that “Being silent and not condemning the human rights violations of the Israeli government is a disservice to all who live there, including my incredibly strong and loving grandmother”, and that “this type of oppression is painful for all humanity, but it is especially painful for me personally every time I hear my loving family members cry out for the freedom to live and the right to feel human.”
Aryeh Deri’s mendacious statement about Tlaib’s supposed usage of her grandmother as a cynical political ploy is to be seen as a continuance of the dehumanization of Palestinians. The bad faith statement drips racism. For a normal empathetic person, the obvious logic is this: Tlaib had at first acceded to Israels draconian demands as a sacrifice, bowing to the dust, and that after sleeping on it she had second thoughts about her responsibilities as a politician and as a Palestinian, and she reversed course. To think that she would bow as far down as she did with her letter promising not to promote boycotts of Israel, just in order to embarrass Israel later, is just conspiracy theory. But for Deri, the automatic logic is to assume just that, that it’s all just a ploy to humiliate Israel, which is inextricably bound up with a callous attitude to one’s family. He cannot imagine that this one was tearing Rashida Tlaib’s heart apart. And it’s not enough that Israel drags her through the mud to begin with – now that she has decided to stay out of it, she is being dragged through it again by direct incitement of an Israeli Minister.
Deri’s suggestions about Tlaib’s love and hate bear proximity to a quote attributed to Israel’s late Prime Minister Golda Meir: “Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us”. Although the quote’s authenticity is disputed, it has its own life in the Israeli psyche. Gideon Israel, an Israel lobbyist in Washington, tweeted that attributed quotation in faulting Rashida Tlaib.
Not everybody is as mendacious, sour and disparaging as Deri. In the USA now, there is genuine interest in Tlaib and her grandmother. The Washington Post came out yesterday with a piece titled “Meet Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother”, in which the grandmother, Muftiyah Tlaib, is quoted saying
“I am proud of her… Who wouldn’t be proud of a granddaughter like that? I love her and am so proud of her.”
All this is generating great interest about Israel. Eric Levitz in The New York Magazine noted:
For hours on Thursday, the number-one trending topic on U.S. Twitter was Israel; the most prominent hashtag, “#BoycottIsrael.” This is extraordinary.
Aryeh Deri may be trying to tarnish Rashida Tlaib’s name, reputation and moral standing on this, in his attempt to make Israel look better on this story, but I don’t think it’s working. By standing her ground, Tlaib, like Omar, is causing a political earthquake, the fallout of which Israel is desperately trying to contain.