Detroit — Dozens of U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s constituents surrounded her Friday evening during Shabbat to support her in the wake of her refusal to visit Israel under restrictions imposed by that country's government.

JVP Action (Jewish Vote for Peace), a liberal nonprofit, led the event where about 60 people held candles, joined together in songs and rituals with Tlaib near her district office at Pallister Park.

Tlaib, who was previously scheduled to visit the Palestinian territories and see her grandmother in the West Bank, was in tears seeing the support in her hometown, saying, “I cannot tell you how much love I feel here.”

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“I should be on a plane to see her, but you all have me even more love today, trying to replace as much as what I would have been able to get once I got there but thank you,” she told the crowd. “Thank you for uplifting peace, love and justice. Thank you for not politicizing what has happened to me because I’m still a granddaughter.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, said Friday she wouldn't travel to visit her 90-year-old grandmother after all, rebuffing a decision by Israel to admit her on humanitarian grounds on the condition that she promised not to promote boycotts against Israel during her time in the country. 

Tlaib had signed a letter to Israel's interior minister Thursday pledging she would respect any restrictions. By Friday, she had changed her mind. 

The organizer of Friday's event, Reuben Telushkin, said Tlaib made an “inspiring and heartbreaking choice” not to travel to Israel if it meant submitting to being silenced and censored. 

“It is oppression to have travel restrictions placed based on your freedom of speech and to have conditions placed on your travel, that’s not freedom or constitutes a democratic state,”  said Telushkin of JVP Action. “So many unfair, unkind, malicious things have been said about the congresswoman this week and glosses over the fact that this is a person who is trying to see a family member and do their job.” 

President Donald Trump had urged Israel on Twitter to refuse admittance to Tlaib and fellow Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, saying, "They hate Israel & all Jewish people." On Thursday, Israel said it would bar them from visiting, then on Friday offered Tlaib the ability to visit with conditions.

Joel Batterman of Detroit attended the Shabbat dinner, saying it was a unique scene, but “not for anyone who knows Rashida.” 

“My own Jewish heritage calls on me to fight for people marginalized and oppressed in Detroit or in the Middle East, which is what Rashida does each day in her faith as well,” said Batterman, 31.

“What the president said is a bold-faced lie. She couldn’t possibly hate Israel or it’s people. People forget that Rashida learned everything from her mentor, (former state House Democratic floor leader) Steve Tobocman, who is Jewish. Anyone who knows Rashida knows it couldn’t have been farther from the truth.”

JVP is a notable choice for a Jewish ally for this moment because it openly supports BDS, which is fairly marginal in the Jewish institutional world, and is widely seen as anti-Israel in that world.

“Voice for Peace endorses the call from Palestinian civil society for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) as part of our work for freedom, justice and equality for all people,” according to its website.

Tlaib said she doesn’t have a message to send to the Trump administration in response, but said she is proud of her Palestinian roots and is strong because she grew up in Detroit.

“One day, we’ll be able to hear the people like my grandmother that truly, have not been seen or heard,” she said. “Thank you for allowing me to serve ... and for allowing me to be a granddaughter of a grandmother living in occupation.”

Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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