Omar and Tlaib and Israel

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Let me comment on Israel’s apparent decision to bar entry to Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.

Israel is supposedly doing this because the two support BDS. As it happens, I’m not even sure this is entirely true. Tlaib, who is Palestinian American and has relatives in the territories, does. Omar has actually made contradictory or equivocal comments about BDS. Regardless, it simply doesn’t matter. They are elected members of the United States Congress. They are part of the US government and their treatment bears directly on the respect accorded our system of government or interference with our democratic system. The idea that a government which has long benefited from US protection and aid would do such a thing is outrageous.

Even more outrageous is that President Trump has encouraged this decision. This had only been reported through unnamed sources until now. But this morning he went on Twitter and said as much.

This betrays an established and dangerous pattern with Donald Trump: his personal alliances always come before allegiance to country, law and Constitution. This is not surprising and it is of a piece with his collusion and tacit alliance with Russia during the 2016 election.

What you think about Omar and Tlaib is irrelevant. I have criticized Omar when I think it is merited. All that matters here is that they are elected representatives. Punishing or excluding them is a strike against our democratic system. An ally should never do such a thing.

One final, important point. This does not even make sense from the point of view of narrow Israeli self-interest – not in Israeli or Zionist terms. The US has two major parties and they frequently rotate in power. Omar and to a lesser extent Tlaib are controversial in US politics but they have many ardent supporters in the Democratic Party. They are both women of color. The Israeli government under Netanyahu has increasingly identified itself with the GOP and actively worked with the GOP against Democrats as the GOP has become more associated with white nationalism. Democrats will be back in power again. The party is increasingly based on a multiracial political coalition. Sowing antagonism at a level so deep and visceral is obvious folly.

The truth is that this isn’t Israeli policy or even precisely Netanyahu policy. This is an electoral gambit. Israel has an election next month and Netanyahu is in a fight for his political life. He may even be in a fight for his freedom since remaining in office is his best play to delay or quash corruption charges. This is an effort to juice outrage and support from the Israeli far right.

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