Rashida Tlaib & Ilhan Omar Are The First In Congress To Back Palestine's BDS Movement

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Michigan Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib and Minnesota Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar both made history during the 2018 midterm elections by becoming the first Muslim women elected to Congress — but they didn't stop there. Tlaib and Omar both also publicly support Palestine through the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, which, according to The Hill, marks a first for congressional officials.

Earlier this week, Tlaib — who is also the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to Congress — told The Intercept that she would lead a congressional delegation to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, in lieu of a trip to Israel that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee routinely sponsors for freshman lawmakers.

“I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” Tlaib told The Intercept. “I don’t think AIPAC provides a real, fair lens into this issue. It’s one-sided. … [They] have these lavish trips to Israel, but they don’t show the side that I know is real, which is what’s happening to my grandmother and what’s happening to my family there.”

But it is her decision to explicitly support BDS, alongside Omar, that could spark controversy both in the United States and Israel. In both countries, lawmakers have attempted to impose restrictions on and even criminalize individuals and organizations who express their support for BDS. Israeli officials also went as far as barring foreign-born BDS supporters from entering the country.

After Omar expressed her support for the BDS movement last month, she faced allegations of anti-Semitism, and was accused of changing her stance on BDS following the midterm elections. AIPAC — the group that sponsors trips to Israel for incoming congressional officials — has staunchly denounced BDS, but despite rampant opposition to BDS in the United States, Tlaib told The Intercept that she personally supports the movement because it uses economic boycotts to draw attention to "issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now."

Multiple American lawmakers have criticized AIPAC's strong influence on Congress in the past, and expressed concern that AIPAC placed pressure on lawmakers to maintain U.S. support for Israel. In 2014, former Washington Rep. Brian Baird told The New Yorker that he went on a "virtually obligatory" trip to Israel shortly after being elected, and noted that AIPAC had carefully curated the trip in order to maintain a positive image of Israel.

Unnamed congressional aides also told The New Yorker that they were worried about AIPAC targeting their careers if they were too outspoken in their criticism, resulting in very few people in Congress being vocal in their support for Palestine and the BDS movement. This pressure has not, however, stopped Tlaib and Omar from coming out in support of BDS; both women have criticized the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and have argued that the BDS movement is a peaceful, effective way to challenge that occupation.

According to The Hill, American lawmakers typically meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials on their trip to Israel — another tradition from which Tlaib plans to veer away. However, the AIPAC trip is still expected to take place; a spokesperson for Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, who has led Democrats on the trip in the past, told The Intercept that Hoyer plans to do so again this year.