By barring Representatives Omar and Tlaib, Netanyahu made the president happy. But he has poisoned relations with America.
I am going to say this as simply and clearly as I can: If you’re an American Jew and you’re planning on voting for Donald Trump because you think he is pro-Israel, you’re a damn fool.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. Trump has said and done many things that are in the interests of the current Israeli government — and have been widely appreciated by the Israeli public. To deny that would be to deny the obvious. But here’s what’s also obvious. Trump’s way of — and motivation for — expressing his affection for Israel is guided by his political desire to improve his re-election chances by depicting the entire Republican Party as pro-Israel and the entire Democratic Party as anti-Israel.
As a result, Trump — with the knowing help of Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu — is doing something no American president and Israeli prime minister have done before: They’re making support for Israel a wedge issue in American politics.
Few things are more dangerous to Israel’s long-term interests than its becoming a partisan matter in America, which is Israel’s vital political, military and economic backer in the world.
Trump’s campaign to tar the entire Democratic Party with some of the hostile views toward Israel of a few of its newly elected congresswomen — and Netanyahu’s careless willingness to concede to Trump’s demand and bar two of them, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from visiting Israel and the West Bank — is part of a process that will do huge, long-term damage to Israel’s interests and support in America.
Netanyahu later relented and granted a visa to Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, for a private, “humanitarian’’ visit to see her 90-year-old grandmother — provided she agree in writing not to advocate the boycott of Israel while there. At first Tlaib agreed, but then decided that she would not come under such conditions.
Excuse me, but when did powerful Israel — a noisy, boisterous democracy where Israeli Arabs in its Parliament say all kinds of wild and crazy things — get so frightened by what a couple of visiting freshman American congresswomen might see or say? When did Israel get so afraid of saying to them: “Come, visit, go anywhere you want! We’ve got our warts and we’ve got our good stuff. We’d just like you to visit both. But if you don’t, we’ll live with that too. We’re pretty tough.’’
It’s too late for that now. The damage of what Trump and Bibi have been up to — formally making Israel a wedge issue in American politics — is already done. Do not be fooled: Netanyahu, through his machinations with Senate Republicans, can get the United States Congress to give him an audience anytime he wants. But Bibi could not speak on any major American college campus today without massive police protection. The protests would be huge.
And listen now to some of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders — you can hear how unhappy they are with the behavior of this Israeli government and its continued occupation of the West Bank. And they are not afraid to say so anymore. As The Jerusalem Post reported on July 11, “Sen. Elizabeth Warren, whose presidential candidacy has rallied in recent weeks, told two Jewish anti-occupation activists ‘yes’ when they asked her for support.’’
But who can blame them? Trump is equating the entire Democratic Party with hatred for Israel, while equating support for Netanyahu — who leads the most extreme, far-right government that Israel has ever had, who is facing indictment on three counts of corruption and whose top priority is getting re-elected so that he can have the Israeli Knesset overrule its justice system and keep him out of court — with loving Israel.
How many young Americans want to buy into that narrative? If Bibi wins, he plans to pass a law banning his own indictment on corruption, and then, when Israel’s Supreme Court strikes down that law as illegal, he plans to get the Knesset to pass another law making the Supreme Court subservient to his Parliament. I am not making this up. Israel will become a Jewish banana republic.
If and when that happens, every synagogue, every campus Hillel, every Jewish institution, every friend of Israel will have to ask: Can I support such an Israel? It will tear apart the entire pro-Israel community and every synagogue and Jewish Federation.
Then add another factor. By moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — and turning that embassy, led by a Trump crony, Ambassador David Friedman, into an outpost for advancing the interests of Israeli Jewish settlers, not American interests — Trump has essentially greenlighted the Israeli annexation of the West Bank.
Again, should Netanyahu remain prime minister — which is possible only if he puts together a ruling coalition made up of far-right parties that want to absorb the West Bank and its 2.5 million Palestinians into Israel — Israel will be on its way to becoming either a binational state of Arabs and Jews or a state that systematically deprives a large and growing segment of its population of the democratic right to vote. Neither will be a Jewish democracy, the dream of Israel’s founders and still the defining, but endangered, political characteristic of the state.
Don’t get me wrong. I strongly oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement — which Representatives Omar and Tlaib have embraced — because it wants to erase the possibility of a two-state solution. And I am particularly unhappy with Representative Omar.I know a lot about her home district in Minnesota, because I grew up in it, in St. Louis Park. Omar represents the biggest concentration of Jews and Muslims living together in one district in the Upper Midwest. She was perfectly placed to be a bridge builder between Muslims and Jews. Instead, sadly, she has been a bridge destroyer between the two since she came to Washington. But anytime she is legitimately criticized, Democrats automatically scream “Islamophobia’’ and defend her. That’s as disturbing as Trump.
I know that more than a few Somali immigrants in Minneapolis, who face so many challenges — from gang violence to unemployment — are asking why is Omar spending time on the West Bank of the Jordan and not on the West Bank of the Mississippi?
I love Israelis, Palestinians and Arabs — but God save me from some of their American friends. So many of them just want to exploit this problem to advance themselves politically, get attention, raise money or delegitimize their opponents.
In that, Trump is not alone — he’s just the worst of the worst.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib on Friday called off her visit to the West Bank, hours after Israel ’s decision to allow her into the country on humanitarian grounds with some restrictions on what she could say and do.
Her announcement capped off two days of back-and-forth, with Israel on Thursday saying it would bar Ms. Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar from the country because of their support for boycotting Israel. Israel had said last month it would allow the Congresswomen to visit but reversed course after pressure from President Trump, who said “it would show great weakness” to let them in.
It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!
Ms. Tlaib had filed a humanitarian appeal to Israel, promising not to promote boycott activities and abide by restrictions while visiting her family in the West Bank. She said it might be her last chance to see her elderly grandmother. But she said Friday she didn’t want to visit under the conditions imposed by Israel, who she accused of “silencing me and treating me like a criminal.
“I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in—fighting against racism, oppression & injustice,” she said in a tweet.
Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice. https://twitter.com/RashidaTlaib/status/1162341203406401536 …Rashida Tlaib
When I won, it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies. https://twitter.com/RashidaTlaib/status/1162333169846247425 …18.9K people are talking about this
Israel’s announcement Friday had partially walked back Israel’s decision Thursday to block Ms. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American representing Detroit, and Ms. Omar, a Somali-American representing Minneapolis, from entering Israel for a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank that was to begin Sunday.
Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who said he authorized Ms. Tlaib’s entry into Israel on humanitarian grounds, wrote on Twitter that the congresswoman’s “hatred of Israel outweighs her love for her grandmother.”
The episode was the latest round in Mr. Trump’s feud with Ms. Tlaib and Omar, who, along with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, make up a group of women of color in Congress calling themselves ‘The Squad.’ Mr. Trump has repeatedly targeted them at rallies and on Twitter as being anti-Israel, which they deny.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS
How will the events of the past two days affect U.S.-Israel relations? Join the conversation below.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R. Fla.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Israel’s decision to bar the Congresswomen is a mistake. “Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state,” he said.
House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the decision was a sign of weakness, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it believed every member of Congress should be able to travel to Israel.
Democratic leaders have expressed concern over Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar’s views on Israel, which are problematic for a party that has identified as pro-Israel.
Ms. Omar has said lawmakers’ support for Israel is motivated by money, which critics slammed as anti-Semitic. She later apologized for the comments after Mrs. Pelosi rebuked her.
Ms. Tlaib has slammed Israel’s policies toward Palestinians and has said she supports a one state solution, in which Israelis and Palestinians living in Israel would have equal rights and representation. Israel fears that would be the end of its Jewish majority in the country.
Along with Ms. Omar, Ms. Tlaib was to visit Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah.
Ms. Tlaib came under fire from some supporters Friday after she had accepted Israel’s offer to visit her grandmother. Some Palestinians criticized Ms. Tlaib as having caved to Israeli pressure and accepting unfair demands.
Bassam Tlaib, 54, the Congresswoman’s uncle who lives in Beit Ur al-Faqua, said the whirlwind of media reports whether Ms. Tlaib would be allowed to enter Israel brought the family “from a state of happiness to anxiety.” He said he was afraid to give Ms. Tlaib’s grandmother hope that she’ll be visited by her grandchild.
“She’s is waiting to be embraced by her loved one,” Mr. Tlaib said of his mother and the congresswoman’s grandmother.
Barring Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib shows weakness and intolerance, not strength.
There are not many traditions of decorum that President Trump has not trampled on since entering the White House. But to put at risk, so cynically, America’s special relationship with Israel solely to titillate the bigots in his base, to lean so crassly on a foreign leader to punish his own political adversaries, to demonstrate so foul a lack of respect for the most elemental democratic principles, is new territory even for him.
Though facing a difficult election next month for which he sorely needs the support of his fractured right-wing base, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was said to be leaning toward allowing Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan to travel through Israel “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America,” as his ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, wisely said last month. But, on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu cravenly bowed before the pressure from Mr. Trump.
“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Thursday morning. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”Sad, to borrow one of Mr. Trump’s favorite words. How sad that two leaders — each desperate to look tough to his own base — are risking a bipartisan relationship built between these two nations over generations. Only weak leaders would risk so much for a reward so negligible. To what end?
- To win a few political points against two of the newest members of Congress?
- To capture a few news cycles?
- To dial up the outrage machine just one more notch?
Confident leaders would never have risked so much for so little.
Though many American presidents have sought to influence Israeli decisions throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they usually did so diplomatically — and to advance America’s interests. Mr. Trump, by contrast, leaned on Mr. Netanyahu as he would on one of his own appointees, in broad view, and in direct violation of what the president of the United States should be doing when democratically elected lawmakers are threatened with a blockade by an allied leader.
There can be, and has been, considerable debate over what the two congresswomen, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and both sharp critics of the Israeli government, have said and done. They have supported the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement aimed at pressuring Israel into ending its occupation of the West Bank, a movement that some Jews have deemed to be anti-Semitic.
Yet, from the outset, Mr. Trump has pounced on the religion and background of the two congresswomen to fan racial divisions. Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib were two of the four congresswomen of color, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who Mr. Trump said should “go back” to the countries they came from, giving rise to chants of “send her back” at a subsequent Trump political rally.
The visit Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib were contemplating was not to Israel proper, but to the West Bank, where they were to visit Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, on a trip co-sponsored by a Palestinian organization, Miftah, that promotes “global awareness and knowledge of Palestinian realities.” A visit was planned to the Al Aqsa Mosque, on what Israelis call the Temple Mount, an especially volatile site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is little question that their visit would have focused on Palestinian grievances over the Israeli occupation.
All that was clearly troublesome for Mr. Netanyahu, especially the support of the congresswomen for the B.D.S. movement. A relatively recent law allows the Israeli government to deny entry to supporters of the movement; it was this law that the government used to deny entry to the representatives.
In April the United States barred Omar Barghouti, one of the co-founders of the B.D.S. movement, from entering the country when he was scheduled to deliver a series of talks and attend his daughter’s wedding. Other American public figures have been detained by Israeli authorities, ostensibly because of their political views, including the
- IfNotNow founder, Simone Zimmerman, who was held at the border; a B.D.S. advocate,
- Ariel Gold, who was denied entry to the country; and the
- journalist Peter Beinart, who was held at the airport. Mr. Netanyahu later called Mr. Beinart’s detention a “mistake.”
Yet contrary to Mr. Trump’s tweet, it is blocking entry by two American legislators who are critics of Israel that shows great weakness, especially after Israel hosted visits by delegations of 31 Republican and 41 Democratic lawmakers this month.
It has long been Israel’s mantra that critics of its policies should come see for themselves, and the country is certainly strong enough to handle any criticism from two members of Congress. Mr. Trump has done Israel no favor.
Artwork depicting a crucified Ronald McDonald remains on display in Israel despite protests and calls for its removal from the country’s Arab Christian community.
The sculpture, named “McJesus,” was meant to be a critique of society’s capitalistic culture, Haifa Museum of Art officials told the Associated Press. The demonstrations began last week and came as a surprise to museum director Nissim Tal, who indicated that the sculpture had been up for months and shown in other countries without incident.
The AP reports that the protests were sparked by scores of visitors to the museum sharing photos of “McJesus” on social media, upsetting many Arab Christians, who considered the sculpture insensitive to their religion. Tal told the Jerusalem Post that more than 30,000 people have viewed the exhibit featuring “McJesus” since opening night in August.
.. “This is very offensive, and I cannot consider this art,” Amir Ballan, an artist in Haifa and a Christian, told the AP. “We will continue through peaceful rallies and candle vigils. … We won’t be quiet until we reach a solution.”
.. “This is the maximum that we can do,” Tal told the AP. “If we take the art down, the next day we’ll have politicians demanding we take other things down, and we’ll end up only with colorful pictures of flowers in the museum.”
Jani Leinonen, the Finnish artist behind “McJesus,” told the Jerusalem Post that the sculpture was displayed against his wishes. He said he wants it removed from the exhibit because he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, better known as BDS. The Palestinian-led initiative calls for boycotting Israeli goods and services to pressure Israel to end its occupation.
Israel argues that BDS is anti-Semitic and undermines the nation’s right to exist, and it has banned those associated with the movement from entering the country.