The Washington Post editorializes today, Barring two U.S. lawmakers from Israel is un-Israeli. Trump’s cheering for it is un-American.
President Trump has trampled on innumerable American democratic norms and traditions, but few instances have been as egregious as his public intervention Thursday urging Israel to deny entry to a pair of U.S. members of Congress who planned to visit the country this weekend. Hours later, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose ambassador in Washington said last month that the Jewish state would never bar a member of Congress “out of respect” for the institution and the Israeli-American alliance, did just that.
The episode is a disgrace to both countries and a demonstration that craven domestic political self-interest drives each leader far more than principle or the underlying importance of what until now has been an enduring alliance. By teaming up with Mr. Netanyahu to block the visit by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Mr. Trump demonstrated contempt for the congresswomen and their constituents. That’s old news for a president who said the two legislators and two other minority Democratic congresswomen, who are all Americans, should “go back” to their countries. What’s added in this case is the odious assertion that their freedom to travel should be curtailed because of their political beliefs.
Mr. Trump delights in fanning the flames of racial and ethnic division, and in Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib he has found foils that suit his purpose. Both women favor the BDS movement, which advocates boycotts, divestments and sanctions directed at Israel for its occupation of the West Bank and violations of Palestinian human rights. Both have made statements that play on anti-Semitic tropes. Both have broken with the Democratic Party’s broad tradition of support for Israel — which Mr. Trump hopes gives him an opening to drive a wedge between the party and its base of Jewish voters.
As for the principle that elected representatives of the American people should be able to travel where they like — the principle enunciated a few weeks ago by Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador in Washington — Mr. Trump has made his rejoinder clear: Principles are for suckers. How many dictators are rejoicing today that a U.S. president has given them full permission to bar members of Congress who in the future might want to visit their countries to monitor elections or speak up for human rights?
Then there’s Mr. Netanyahu, who has dealt a blow to the U.S.-Israeli alliance in service to his prospects of winning a fifth term in next month’s Israeli election. His decision might appeal to his hard-line supporters at home. But as a former diplomat who worked extensively in the United States, he knows that Israel’s interests depend on cultivating strong ties with Republicans and Democrats alike. That stance was already strained by his hostile relationship with President Barack Obama. Now, by barring the two Democratic representatives, he has antagonized a broad swath of American Democrats who might not embrace their view of Israel but will be justly furious at the insult meted out, gratuitously, by an Israeli premier.
Israel enacted a law two years ago authorizing officials to deny entry to supporters of the BDS movement. That was a sign of weakness: How could a country with a robust pluralistic democracy bar nonviolent visitors based on their political beliefs? That a U.S. president would lend support and credence to such a policy — at the expense of democratically elected members of Congress — is fundamentally un-American.
It’s not just President Trump. Last month the House approved a resolution opposing Israel boycott movement in divisive vote. The GOP-controlled Senate passed anti-BDS legislation earlier this year that would go farther than the House’s anti-BDS resolution by making it easier for states to fight against the BDS movement. Arizona has already enacted such a law.
As the New York Times editorializes, What Are Trump and Netanyahu Afraid Of?
Echoing President Donald Trump [of course], Sen. Martha McSally blasted two Democratic congresswomen on Thursday, saying they have “hijacked” pro-Israel discussions in Congress and that she supports Israel’s decision to block them from entering the country.
So you’re good with an assault on the rights of members of Congress to do their job through an unprecedented abuse of power by an authoritarian president?
McSally, R-Ariz., who had been deployed in the Middle East while serving in the Air Force, stood by Trump’s position during an appearance on Fox News.
“Their actions and their words have been dangerous,” she said. “Their anti-Semitism, their support to the BDS movement, they personally lead an effort to ensure the House of Representatives couldn’t pass a bill to condemn anti-Semitism.”
McSally added, “I hope Speaker Pelosi stands up against them, calls out their dangerous rhetoric, and continues to show strong bipartisan support for our ally, Israel, which is the only real democratic country in that region.”
Being critical of the policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Israeli government does not make one anti-semitic, despite Republican’s disingenuous attempts to mischaracterize it this way. As Amnesty International Israel and Amnesty International USA says in a statement:
Molly Malekar, Amnesty International Israel’s director said:
“The Israeli government allows free entry to world leaders accused of gross violations of human rights, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, such as Myanmar’s generals and Duterte of the Philippines, proudly embracing leaders identified with supporting neo-Nazi and anti-semitic groups such as Hungary’s Orbán or Brazil’s Bolsenaro, but automatically calls anti-semitic anyone who dare criticize it.
“Israel bars entry on the basis of political views to those who critique it. Criticizing Israel’s policies isn’t violence.”
Philippe Nassif, the advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA said:
“Donald Trump continues a pattern of divisive rhetoric that inflicts great harm on those standing up for their basic rights. Free speech is a basic human right. Opposition to a government’s policies or abhorrence to grave human rights abuses is neither anti-semitism nor a hatred towards a country or its people. We expect all people who support human rights to stand up and speak out against abuses, wherever they occur.”
Amnesty International Israel and Amnesty International USA have been calling for an end to illegal settlements, an end to unjustly detaining Palestinian activists including children, and for respect for the rights to freedom of movement and expression in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
Amnesty International does not take a view on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and has never called for or endorsed specific boycotts.
House Speaker NancyPelosi called Israel’s actions a “sign of weakness and beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.” She and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Israel to reverse its decision.
A day after barring Representative Rashida Tlaib under pressure from President Trump, Israel said on Friday that she could visit her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in the occupied West Bank, but only after she agreed in writing not to “promote boycotts against Israel” during her trip.
But Rep. Tlaib said on Twitter on Friday that “visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in.”
“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me,” Ms. Tlaib said of her grandmother. “It would kill a piece of me.”
This was a change in her position from the day prior:
Rep. Tlaib had written to the Israeli interior minister, Aryeh Deri, appealing to be allowed to see her relatives, particularly her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in Beit Ur al-Fouqa, a Palestinian village west of Ramallah.
“This could be my last opportunity to see her,” Ms. Tlaib wrote on congressional letterhead. “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”
“In light of that,” Mr. Deri’s office said on Friday, the minister decided to allow her into Israel and “expressed hope that she would keep her commitment and that the visit would truly be solely for humanitarian purposes.”
The developments raised new questions about how Ms. Tlaib’s much-anticipated visit would ultimately affect politics in both countries; the relationship has become a divisive campaign issue in both the Sept. 17 election in Israel and the 2020 presidential race in the United States.
* * *
Mr. Trump’s intervention, urging another country to act against his domestic critics, was the latest example of his willingness to violate the norms of conduct by an American president.
Rep. Ilhan Omar on Thursday slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said Israel is implementing Trump’s Muslim ban by denying entry:
“It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the US government,” Omar said in a statement.
“Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress. Denying entry into Israel not only limits our ability to learn from Israelis, but also to enter the Palestinian territories,” she added.
Omar said that the government’s action ‘is not a surprise’ given Netanyahu past comment.
He “has consistently resisted peace efforts, restricted the freedom of movement of Palestinians, limited public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation and aligned himself with Donald Trump,” said Omar.
The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin writes, Israel’s ban of Omar and Tlaib is a grave misstep (excerpt):
The problem arises from a recently passed law that would bar foreign nationals who support any boycott of Israel from receiving entry visas. This in and of itself was an infringement on the Israeli tradition of vigorous public debate, but with elections upcoming in September, Netanyahu is scrambling to ingratiate himself further with the far right. Before Wednesday, however, “Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said the two congresswomen would be allowed to visit Israel ‘out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.’” So much for that “respect.” (The Israeli embassy did not respond to a request for comment.)
* * *
The ban is a stunning, unprecedented step, one that signals Israel, long a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, cannot tolerate criticism — even from nationals of its closest ally. For Netanyahu it sends the message that he is Trump’s puppet, willing to damage the long-term relationship with the United States to assuage the ego of a president who is in a political tailspin.
“This reversal is counterproductive to say the least and gives a victory to the BDS Movement. All Members of Congress would benefit from visiting Israel and seeing the diversity of the people and richness of the culture,” former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council Aaron Keyak told reporters. “This action also sets a dangerous precedent for the many other countries — many led by dictators and ruthless thugs — that U.S. elected officials visit.’” He adds that this is “a painful moment for those of us who care about a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and fight for the cause of peace.”
He was not alone, according to multiple sources. Heads of major Jewish organizations had been on the phone with the U.S. ambassador to Israel imploring Israel not to take this step. According to the leader of one such group, the leader’s group had been urging the Israeli government to stick by the original decision to let the congresswomen in, while being under no illusion about the congresswomen’s views. The potential political and reputational costs of not letting them in might be even higher than of letting them in, the leader acknowledged.
The decision to exclude them likely will, American Jewish leaders recognize, incite the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and create a further schism with Democrats in Congress. It will continue the process, exacerbated by Trump and Netanyahu, of making support for Israel a partisan issue, something both sides have long tried to avoid.
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According to a source familiar with the Israeli government’s thinking, the Israelis objected to the congresswomen’s “one-sided” itinerary, which included multiple stops in the Palestinian territories even as the government was discouraging Israeli groups from meeting with them. If that’s the rationale, the Netanyahu government is more short-sighted and politically tone-deaf than we feared. Rather than trying to broaden the perspective of Israel’s critics, Netanyahu is pushing them into an evermore radical position.
How is it that Senator Martha McSally always comes down on the wrong side on every issue? She is just a right-wing reactionary.