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Israel group works to block Ilhan Omar visit

US congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Somali-born Muslim Ilhan Omar [Facebook]
US congresswoman Ilhan Omar in Washington [Facebook]

Notorious Israel advocacy group Shurat HaDin has filed a petition to an Israeli court to see US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar barred from visiting Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt).

The group filed the petition to Israel’s Jerusalem District Court on Tuesday to demand that Interior Minister Aryeh Deri ban Omar from entering the country on the grounds that she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Under an Israeli law passed in 2017, any non-Israeli who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel” can be prevented from entering the country or obtaining a residency or work visa. The law can, however, be waivered for diplomatic reasons.

The Minnesota congresswoman announced earlier this month that she and Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan congresswoman of Palestinian descent, would visit Israel and the oPt.

Although speculation that the pair could be prevented from entering the country quickly spread, Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, confirmed that they would not be refused entry into Israel “out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America”.

Now Shurat HaDin is working to ensure the visit does not go ahead, submitting evidence it claims demonstrates that Omar supports BDS and therefore should not be allowed to enter. Among this evidence is US President Donald Trump’s recent demand that Omar and other members of “the squad” – a group of four female progressive Democrats – should “apologise” to Israel for the “terrible things they have said”.

Shurat HaDin founder Nitsana Darshan-Leitner explained the petition in a statement: “Israel shouldn’t let others, including young students, fight this battle [against BDS] for it, and in contrast surrender to the phenomenon here in Israel due to the prestige and status of certain important BDS activists.”

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Shurat HaDin has filed a number of controversial cases of late. Last month, the group demanded that Gibraltar sell a seized Iranian oil tanker in order to compensate an American-Israeli family whose infant daughter was killed in a 2014 attack in Jerusalem, reportedly carried out by Hamas.

The petition was filed in the Supreme Court in Gibraltar – a disputed British overseas territory located in southern Spain – to demand that it sell an Iranian oil tanker it had impounded on 4 July. Known as Grace 1, the tanker was seized by the UK’s Royal Marines on suspicion of delivering oil to Syria, in violation of European Union (EU) sanctions. It was thought that the tanker contained Iranian oil.

Shurat HaDin tried to use the tanker’s apparent Iran-Syria connection to claim compensation for the American-Israeli family. The group cited a 2017 damages hearing in which the Washington DC District Court ruled that Iran and Syria were liable for the girl’s death as a result of the “material support” they provide to Hamas. Shurat HaDin therefore claimed the sale of the tanker would raise part of the compensation stipulated by the US court and set a precedent which would allow for the seizure of other Iranian assets.

Timeline: International attempts to boycott BDS

For her part, Omar has advocated for US citizens’ “right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights”, introducing a resolution to the House Judiciary Committee to this effect earlier this month. The resolution argued this right is “protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution” and stated opposition to “unconstitutional legislative efforts to limit the use of boycotts to further civil rights at home and abroad”.

Though the resolution did not mention Israel or BDS by name, the initiative was seen as an attempt to counter efforts by multiple US states to ban support for the movement.

BDS protesters [Twitter]

Demonstrators supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement [Twitter]

Omar has also been systematically attacked for her vocal criticism of Israel’s 52-year-old occupation of the Palestinian territories. Over the past few months, the congresswoman has accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of attempting to pressure the Democrat and Republican parties to scrap a resolution supporting the two-state solution, claiming the prime minister only pays lip service to the long-touted solution while continuously working to block the formation of a Palestinian state.

She has also called for “justice” and “lasting peace” in the besieged Gaza Strip, asking “how many more protesters must be shot, rockets must be fired, and little kids must be killed until the endless cycle of violence ends?”

This has seen her targeted by President Trump, senators and former police officials, but has also seen scores of US and international supporters rally behind her willingness to speak out.

Following President Trump’s virulent attack on Omar and other congresswomen of colour – who he told to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”  – the hashtag #IStandWithIlhan was trending on social media with politicians, journalists and celebrities expressing their support of the lawmaker.

A date has not been announced for Omar and Tlaib’s visit to Israel and the oPt, but the pair are expected to use the opportunity to again highlight Israel’s occupation and its impact on the millions of Palestinians living under military rule.

US congresswoman: Critiquing Israel means you believe in human rights

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