Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar denounce Israel's travel restrictions during press conference

By Camilo Montoya-Galvez

/ CBS News

Omar & Tlaib address Israel controversy

Standing side by side on Monday, Democratic Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar forcefully denounced the controversial decision by the Israeli government to deny them entry into the country, casting the travel restrictions as part of a broader effort to suppress voices of dissent against the treatment of Palestinians in occupied and disputed territories.

"Netanyahu's decision to deny us entry might be unprecedented for members of Congress," Omar said during a press conference, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "But it is the policy of his government when it comes to Palestinians. This is the policy of his government when it comes to anyone who holds views that threaten the occupation."

Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar discuss Israel's refusal to allow them to visit the country during a news conference Monday, August 19, 2019, at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota. Jim Mone / AP

"The only way to preserve unjust policy is to suppress people's freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of movement," Omar added.

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The press conference in Minneapolis, part of Omar's congressional district, represented the first joint televised remarks made by the two progressive congresswomen since they were barred from entering Israel last week.

On Thursday, Tlaib and Omar, the two first Muslim women to serve in Congress, both critics of the current Israeli government, were preparing to travel to Israel to visit the occupied Palestinian territories and meet with activists there. But under public pressure by President Trump, a vocal critic of Omar and Tlaib, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government said it would not allow the two lawmakers to enter the country, citing their support for boycotting Israel.

The Israeli government did offer to let Tlaib in on humanitarian grounds to visit her 90-year-old Palestinian grandmother on the condition that she did not promote a boycott of Israel. Tlaib initially agreed, but later rejected the offer, saying she would not make the visit under "oppressive conditions."

Getting visibly emotional, Tlaib said she made the decision to not accept the conditional travel permit after consulting with her grandmother and other family members.

"Through tears, at three o'clock in the morning, we all decided as a family that I could not go until I was a free, American United States Congresswoman coming there, not only to see my grandmother but to talk to Palestinian and Israeli organizations that believed that my grandmother deserves human dignity as much as anyone else does," she said.

The decision by Netanyahu's government to deny entry to two sitting members of Congress prompted withering criticism from Democrats, who said the move could damage the typical bipartisan support among U.S. lawmakers for Israel.

Omar suggested the travel restrictions contradict longstanding beliefs by Republican and Democratic administrations that Israel is one of America's most steadfast allies and the sole true democracy in the Middle East.

"Denying visit to duly elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally," she said. "And denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self determination is not consistent with being a democracy."

First published on August 19, 2019 / 3:34 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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