Barbara Olson and Tsela Barr: Congress needs to stand against Israeli travel bans


In this July 15, 2019, file photo, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn, right, speaks, as U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., listens, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite)

TSELA BARR AND BARB OLSON, The Cap Times, August 23, 2019

Last week, the Israeli government took the unprecedented step of denying two sitting members of the U.S. Congress, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, entry to Israel.

Their crime was to set up their own independent fact-finding trip to visit Palestine rather than participate in the scripted, AIPAC-sponsored free trip to Israel that most Congress members participate in.

They couldn’t be allowed to meet with Israeli or Palestinian peace activists, or visit places like heavily occupied Hebron that aren’t on the itinerary of the AIPAC junket.

Tlaib and Omar had to be kept out because they had the gall to criticize Israel and express support for the non-violent South Africa-inspired Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement seeking justice and human rights for Palestinians.

This may be outrageous, but it is hardly surprising. Israel has been denying entry to Palestinians since they began expelling them in 1948. The discrimination and harassment experienced by Palestinian, Arab and/or Muslim travelers seeking to enter Israel, or just pass through it to visit the illegally occupied Palestinian territories, is well-known. Recently they have also kept out Jewish Americans who support BDS and champion Palestinian human rights.

Earlier this year, the Trump administration revoked the visa of Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court; denied a visa to Palestinian diplomat Hanan Ashrawi; and prevented Palestinian civil society activist Omar Barghouti from traveling to the U.S. for his daughter’s wedding.

It is also not surprising that Trump, no friend of human rights anywhere, seeks to score political points with his base by continuing his racist and Islamophobic attacks on Omar and Tlaib, as well as fellow Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Presley.

But alarm bells should ring out when a U.S. president openly collaborates with the government of a foreign country to which Congress generously provides some $5 billion per year in U.S. tax money in order to stop members of that same Congress from seeing the reality on the ground there.

Many members of Congress are speaking out against the Trump/Netanyahu action. One of these is our own Rep. Mark Pocan, who tweeted “Prime Minister Netanyahu is wrong to deny @RepRashida & @Ilhan entry into Israel. The U.S. is Israel’s strongest ally & has provided billions in support. PM Netanyahu must reverse this decision & no member of Congress should visit Israel until all members of Congress are welcome. “

One who has yet to speak out is Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin is a co-sponsor of Senate Resolution 120 that slanders the BDS movement, implies that it is anti-Semitic, and condemns this legally protected exercise of First Amendment rights.

Even Sen. Ron Johnson has yet to co-sponsor this bill.

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Israel pushing Palestinians to leave Gaza


Relatives of Muhammad Abu Namous, one of three Palestinians killed along the Gaza-Israel boundary overnight, mourn during his funeral in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza, on 18 August. (Mariam Dagga/APA images)

Maureen Clare Murphy, The Electronic Intifada, 19 August 2019

“Israel is ready to carry the costs of helping Gazans emigrate,” and would potentially use air force bases in Israel for that purpose, The Times of Israel reported on Monday.

The unnamed official, in Kyiv as part of Benjamin Netanyahu’s delegation to Ukraine, added that more than 35,000 Palestinians left the coastal enclave last year.

Two million Palestinians live in the Gaza Strip, which has been subjected to a punishing Israeli economic blockade for 12 years and repeated military offensives.

Residents of the territory have been plunged into poverty and cut off from the rest of Palestine and the wider world.

Every two in three Palestinians in Gaza is a refugee from lands inside what is now Israel. That government forbids them from exercising their right to return as enshrined in international law because they are not Jews.

The senior Israeli official was reported by The Times of Israel as saying that his government is asking countries to absorb Palestinians emigrating from Gaza.

“The official said the National Security Council had been spearheading the effort, with Netanyahu’s blessing, for about a year,” The Times of Israel added. It has also been “discussed in the security cabinet several times.”

No European or Middle Eastern country has agreed to participate in the scheme, according to the publication. The official did not say whether any other governments are cooperating.

The revelation is an example of how ideas that supposedly exist only at the extreme fringes of Israeli politics are often not far from government policy.

During Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza, Moshe Feiglin, then deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament, proposed a plan to “concentrate” Palestinians in Gaza in border camps and “exterminate” any who resisted, while destroying all civilian housing and infrastructure.

Feiglin, who represented Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party, suggested that “Israel will start searching for emigration destinations and quotas for the refugees from Gaza.”

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He Threatened Us, Now He Goes to Jail

Dr. James J. Zogby, August 17, 2019

Back in May, a jury found Patrick Syring, a former State Department official, guilty of 14 counts of making threats against my life and my staff at the Arab American Institute. This week, a federal judge sentenced Syring to five years in prison to be followed by three years of court-ordered probation. 

This was Syring’s second conviction. He had been found guilty of the same crimes against me and my staff in 2008 and served over a year in prison. After his release and a period of probation, he began once again to stalk, harass, and threaten me and my office. He accused me of horrible crimes – organizing dozens of terrorist attacks around the world. He referred to me as a “genocidal, anti-Semitic, homophobic murderer,” in addition to threatening me with death by saying that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab” and America would only be free of terror when it was “cleansed of James Zogby” and “all Arab Americans.” 

Although Syring’s threats were communicated directly to me, he made a practice of copying other members of my staff and even our young interns. In all, we received over 700 such emails from Syring and because of their frequency and the hate-filled threats they contained, they were a cause of real concern. 

Each day, when I entered my office I could tell on the faces of my staff and interns whether or not Syring had struck again. Especially after a terrorist attack either in the US or internationally, his language became so extreme that we had to call local police for protection and report the threats to the FBI. The support they provided us was so appreciated. For a time, two agents accompanied me to public events. The Department of Homeland Security gave us an assessment of measures we should take to make our building and office more secure. And because we knew who had sent the threats, they often visited Syring to warn him that there would be consequences to his behavior. 

His obsession with me and his hatred of Arab Americans was so great, that he continued until the Department of Justice finally convened a Grand Jury and indicted him for his crimes. Nothing, however, stopped him. 

It was this obsession and hatred that concerned us most precisely because we never knew when he might act on his threats of violence. Our concern was heightened by his apparent willingness to continue despite having already been punished for the same crime and having been repeatedly warned by law enforcement to stop what he was doing.   

So now the sentence has been given. Syring will be in a federal prison until 2024. At that time, he will begin three years in court-ordered probation, undergoing psychiatric evaluation, and be required to avoid any contact or communication with me or any current of former staff member of the Institute. 
 
It gives me no pleasure to see this man going to jail for a long period, but it does provide us all with a sense of enormous relief. I’ve been threatened before. My wife, my children, and I have received death threats for the past 50 years – owing to my advocacy for Palestinian rights and the rights of the Arab American community. My office was fire-bombed and an Arab American colleague, whom I hired, was murdered. Two individuals who, in the past, made death threats against me and my children were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. But this case was different. 

In the first place, Syring had tormented us for over a decade. He literally became a part of our daily lives. My wife had his picture handy and if a car was parked outside of our house, she would check to see if he was the driver. My staff were instructed to alter their behaviors – so as not to take the same route to and from the office. And some even had to receive counseling. It was especially troubling to see the reactions of young interns when they would be the unlucky recipients of a Syring email. They had come to have a Washington work experience, not to be threatened or have their ethnicity maligned.  

This is also different because for more than two decades Syring had been a State Department official who had served two tours in Lebanon. During the 2008 proceedings, I learned that on more than one occasion he had been rebuked by the DOS for displays of anti-Arab behavior. I was shocked that instead of taking action they simply moved him to another posting. They even allowed him to remain in the federal service after he was indicted for his first threats against me – some of which he made from his State Department phone or his State Department computer. At that time, I asked DOS officials, “What if a foreign service officer had threatened a Jewish American leader and made repeated anti-Semitic comments against him and called for genocide against the Jewish community – what would the reaction have been?”

That troubled me then and still troubles me now. And while there has been some press coverage of the case, I am compelled to ask, “What kind of press treatment would have been given if a former government official delivered death threats to a Jewish American leader accompanied by the statement ‘the only good Jew is a dead Jew?'”  Why are Arab Americans seen in a lesser light? And why are threats against us less worthy of evoking outrage?

With Syring going to jail for the next five years, my staff and I feel a degree of relief. It won’t give us back the years we lived in fear, but we know that at least for the foreseeable future our daily lives won’t be turned upside down by cruel death threats from this man. We are thankful for that. We are also thankful for the strong support and protection we were given by the Civil Rights attorneys at the DOJ and law enforcement agencies and for the friendship and support we received from allies and friends. 

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What Is Israel Trying to Hide?

Reps. Tlaib & Omar Blocked from Taking Official Trip to West Bank


Democracy Now!  August 16, 2019

    GUESTS
    Mustafa Barghouti
    member of the Palestinian Parliament, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party. He was a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections.
    Rebecca Vilkomerson
    executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Israel sparked outrage Thursday when it banned two freshman Democratic congresswomen of color — Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — from entering the country. Following outcry from Democratic leaders and Palestinians, Israel granted permission for Tlaib to enter the country on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her family in the West Bank — though Tlaib said Friday she will not visit her family under such conditions. Israel originally denied entrance to Tlaib and Omar after President Donald Trump tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people.” Congressmembers Tlaib and Omar are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, and were planning to tour East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Both congresswomen have voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, a global solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The nonviolent movement seeks to use economic and cultural pressure to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. We speak with Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative political party, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has announced it will conditionally allow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to visit family in the West Bank, a day after it barred both Tlaib and fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from entering Israel to travel to occupied Palestine. Israel is still refusing entry to Omar. Israel initially blocked entry to both lawmakers after President Trump took the unprecedented step of publicly urging Israel to bar entry to the women, the first two female Muslim members of Congress. Trump tweeted Thursday, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people,” he tweeted.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his decision Thursday. Israeli prime minister defended the decision to bar both the U.S. lawmakers.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] By law, we are not willing to admit anyone into Israel who calls for the boycott of the state of Israel and acts to delegitimize the state of the Jews.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli authorities say Congressmember Tlaib will now be allowed entry on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her ailing 90-year-old grandmother, on the condition she does not promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement during her visit. Both Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have voiced support for the BDS movement, the global solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The nonviolent movement seeks to use economic and cultural pressure to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. The congresswomen were planning to tour East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

After learning of the ban, Congressmember Ilhan Omar released a statement that read, in part, quote, “It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government. Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” she said.

Both centrist and progressive Democrats criticized Israel’s move and Trump’s statements. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Israel to reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “I cannot move forward with scheduling any visits to Israel until all members of Congress are allowed.” Despite outcry from Democratic leaders, as well as Palestinians, President Trump doubled down on his position later on Thursday.

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Meet Rashida Tlaib’s grandma: ‘Who wouldn’t be proud of a granddaughter like that?’

Rep. Tlaib’s grandmother says the family had already prepared a lamb

Muftiyah Tlaib, the grandmother of Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), spoke to The Washington Post on Aug. 16 from her home in the West Bank. (Video: James McAuley/Photo: James McAuley/The Washington Post)

James McAuley and Sufian Taha, The Washington Post, August 16, 2019

BEIT UR AL-FAUQA, WEST BANK — Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother does not understand why her granddaughter, a sitting U.S. congresswoman, could not visit her as originally planned.

Muftiyah Tlaib — who says she is somewhere between 85 and her early 90s — lives in the village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, about 15 miles outside Jerusalem and close to the seam line between Israel and the West Bank, territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 war and that Palestinians hope to see as part of an independent state someday.

She lives in the same elegant limestone house in the same sleepy village she has called home since 1974 — the house where the whole village once came to celebrate Rashida Tlaib’s wedding, and the house that looks directly onto an Israeli settlement with a visible military presence.

“She’s in a big position, and she cannot visit her grandmother,” she laughed, seated in her living room on Friday. “So what good is the position?”

In the end, Muftiyah Tlaib will not see her granddaughter in the coming week. The reunion would have marked the first meeting for the two since about 2007, she said.

Rep. Tlaib says she will not go to Israel after the country initially rejected her request for a visit, then reversed course

On Friday, Israel partly reversed its decision from the day before to deny entry to Tlaib (D-Mich.) and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from a planned tour of the Palestinian territories, on the grounds that “the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it.”

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Friday that he would approve a separate humanitarian request for Tlaib to visit her grandmother, or “sity” in Arabic.

“This could be my last opportunity to see her,” Tlaib wrote in a letter to Israeli authorities. “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”

For many Palestinians, the fact that Tlaib accepted these terms was itself an affront, a humiliating compromise in which she was made to forgo her opinions to see her loved ones.

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Israel Denies Entry to Omar and Tlaib After Trump’s Call to Block Them


Isabel Kershner, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Peter Baker, New York Times, Aug. 15, 2019

JERUSALEM — Under intense pressure from President Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on Thursday barred two members of the United States Congress from entering Israel, reversing a previous decision to admit two of the president’s most outspoken critics.

By enlisting a foreign power to take action against two American citizens, let alone elected members of Congress, Mr. Trump crossed a line that other presidents have not, in effect exporting his partisan battles beyond the country’s borders. And he demonstrated the lengths that he will go to to target his domestic opponents, in this case two of the congresswomen of color he has sought to make the face of the Democratic Party heading into his re-election campaign.

In blocking the visits of the two Democratic congresswomen, who are both Muslim, Mr. Netanhyahu cited their support for boycotting Israel, acceding to the wishes of the American president, who declared on Twitter shortly before Israel’s announcement that letting them in would “show great weakness.”

[Is B.D.S. anti-Semitic? A closer look at the boycott Israel campaign.]

The move not only inflamed the politics of both countries, it joined Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu even more closely as partners against their mutual adversaries as the prime minister faces a critical election next month.

Speaking with reporters before flying to Manchester, N.H., for a rally, Mr. Trump would not say whether he spoke directly with Mr. Netanyahu about the matter but acknowledged that he “did speak with people” privately even before tweeting about it.

The congresswomen, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, are vocal supporters of the Palestinians and the movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S.

The president has repeatedly attacked them, along with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, at one point demanding that they “go back” to their home countries, even though they are all American citizens.

Israel’s decision was criticized not only by Democrats but also by some top Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, also said it was a mistake.

In a statement, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel respects Congress but defended the decision. “As a free and vibrant democracy,” he said, “Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for, and work to impose, boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prevent the entry of people believed to be damaging to the country.”

Mr. Trump, who has sought to elevate a handful of controversial but relatively powerless liberal freshmen of color into symbols of the opposition, promptly welcomed the decision on Twitter. “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” he wrote. Continue reading