By Ronn Blitzer
Published August 19, 2019
Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are ramping up their criticism of Israel's decision to block them from entering the country, where according to Tlaib "racism and the politics of hate" are "thriving."
But in defending its decision, the Israeli government is citing the radical history of the group that was slated to sponsor the trip.
That group, named Miftah, has a long record of anti-Israel rhetoric that includes downplaying attacks on Israelis and even describing suicide bombers as "sacrificing their lives for the cause." It's a record poised to see new scrutiny as senior Democrats reportedly weigh retaliatory measures for the snub of the two freshman Democrats and the Trump and Netanyahu administrations hit back.
"The organization that is funding their trip is Miftah, which is an avid supporter of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement), and among whose members are those who have expressed support for terrorism against Israel," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement.
Netanyahu cited Miftah as he alleged the lawmakers had ulterior, anti-Israel motives in their planned Israel trip.
For instance, a 2006 Miftah report dealing with the Second Intifada – a wave of Palestinian violence in the early 2000s – discussed a 2002 Jerusalem suicide bombing under a section titled “Fighting Back.” It described the attack, where Wafa Idrees blew herself up with a bomb that killed an Israeli and injured more than 100 others, as “the beginning of a string of Palestinian women dedicated to sacrificing their lives for the cause.”
More recently, Miftah’s founder, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s executive committee, spoke against referring to Palestinian attackers as terrorists in a 2017 interview.
“They are seen by the people as resistance and you cannot somehow adopt the language of either the international community or the occupier by describing anybody who resists as a terrorist,” she told Germany’s DW.com, describing “this whole labeling thing” as “unfair and unjust.”
Miftah has not responded to Fox News’ request for clarification on their organization’s stance on violence.
The organization's position on BDS is far clearer.
“The BDS movement, to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, which arose out of Palestinian civil society, is also a crucially important force, which has great potential and deserves international attention,” wrote a member of Miftah's Media and Information Department in 2010.
“Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) give us hope,” a 2012 piece said. More recently, a June 2019 document authored by Miftah promoting an interview with Birzeit University lecturer Dr. Ghassan Khatib said, “There must be coherence between official Palestinian diplomacy and public diplomacy, one form of which is the BDS movement.”
Israeli law allows the country to bar anyone who promotes BDS from entering. Omar and Tlaib are vocal supporters of the movement and had planned a trip with a group that appears to endorse it fully. Their colleagues in the House, meanwhile, passed a resolution in opposition to BDS in July with a 398-17 vote.
“These two members were going, they were claiming to be representatives of the U.S. government, but they were seeking to undercut U.S. foreign policy and not represent our actual stance as a government,” Rep. Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y., told "Fox & Friends" on Monday.
Miftah drew accusations of blatant anti-Semitism in 2013, when they published an article that gave credence to the medieval blood libel, the false claim that Jews use Christian blood to make matzah for the Passover holiday. They apologized after the article drew backlash, stating that “the article was accidentally and incorrectly published by a junior staff member.” They added that all their staff had been informed "as to the disgusting and repulsive phenomena of blood libel or accusation, including its use against Jews.”
When the blood libel article resurfaced amid discussion of Omar and Tlaib’s planned trip, the organization took a more combative tone in addressing it, accusing “vicious hate-filled groups” of “unfounded accusations and fabrications” about Miftah, while again blaming the publication of the article on a junior staffer’s “misstep.”
Omar and Tlaib are not the first members of Congress to plan a trip to Israel through Miftah. In 2016, Reps. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., Dan Kildee, D-Mich., Hank Johnson, D-Ga., Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., went on a trip that Miftah organized alongside the American Global Institute.
When the House voted on July’s anti-BDS resolution, Cartwright and Kildee voted in favor, while Pocan opposed it and Johnson voted present. Gutierrez is no longer in office.
The 2016 trip garnered attention due to its itinerary, which reportedly included a meeting with Shawan Jabarin, an alleged member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a designated terrorist organization.
When asked about the trip, Cartwright did not go into details, but told Fox News, "I have taken two trips there with different groups, to look for opportunities to learn from the people there and support a vibrant democracy,” adding, “I do go wherever I think I need to go to learn the facts. As a U.S. Congressman, I think that’s part of my job."
The congressman also stated, "My support for our great alliance with Israel has been 100% and will continue undiminished."
At the same time, the 2016 trip – which was allowed by Israel to proceed – provides potential fuel for those claiming Omar and Tlaib were unfairly singled out in being blocked. The backlash has not settled since last week, when senior Democrats, as well as some Republicans and even pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, challenged the decision to nix the trip.
“Israel’s denial of entry to Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar is a sign of weakness, and beneath the dignity of the great state of Israel," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a press release.