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Will Israel's treatment of Omar and Tlaib finally wake Democrats up?

Now that Israel has banned entry to Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, will Democrats affirm the right to boycott and hold Israel’s feet to the fire? Five takeaways.

The official headshot of Rep. Rashida Tlaib. (United States Congress)

The official headshot of Rep. Rashida Tlaib. (United States Congress)

1. Don’t let the headlines fool you: neither Ilhan Omar nor Rashida Tlaib had any intention of visiting Israel when they announced their trip to the region. They had hoped, instead, to visit the occupied West Bank, where Tlaib’s family hails from. The fact that Israel is the sole sovereign between the river and the sea and can decide who and what can enter or exit the West Bank is one of the most fundamental aspects of Israel’s 52-year military occupation.

2. One must also take stock of Israel’s priorities when it makes decisions about who is or isn’t welcome. While authoritarian leaders such Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, Hungary’s Viktor Orban and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are welcomed with open arms, these two Democratic congresswomen are turned into enemies of the state. Why? Because they believe in the right to hold Israel to account, including through boycotts.

3. BDS, one should recall, is a nonviolent and legitimate tool of resistance, especially when considering that Israel has crushed all other forms of Palestinian resistance for decades, be it violent or nonviolent. Boycotts of and divestments from businesses that profit off of human rights violations and war crimes are common in various struggles for social justice.

Meanwhile, even Israel supports the use of international sanctions when it serves its political goals. But only when applied to Israel’s decades’ long occupation and apartheid policies — with the express purpose of promoting freedom, equality, and democracy for Palestinians  — are boycotts, divestment and sanctions demonized.

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4. This is where parts of the left, whether in Israel, the U.S., Europe or elsewhere, also share the blame. Large segments among both Democrats and the Zionist left have historically taken part in delegitimizing BDS as a political tool for Palestinian liberation. By isolating BDS supporters, those on the left have paved the way for Netanyahu and Trump to go after Tlaib and Omar.

This can and should be a decisive moment. We are already hearing Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and left-wing and liberal groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street denouncing Israel for the decision. Even AIPAC is demanding Israel backtrack and allow the congresswomen freedom of movement.

5. As long as these statements are not followed by real action, nothing will change. Israel has become immune to criticism, whether coming from friends or foes. If Democrats don’t turn their statements into full support for the right to boycott and actively try to stop institutional attempts to silence criticism of Israel in the U.S., nothing will change. As long as the international community sits back and the U.S. continues to offer Israel diplomatic immunity and a blank check, Israel will continue to deny Palestinians their basic human and civil rights.

6. It has now been made public that Israel will, after all, be allowing Rep. Rashida Tlaib to visit her elderly grandmother in the occupied West Bank as a “humanitarian” measure. Tlaib has committed to respecting Israel’s conditions, and to refrain from making any statements in support of boycott while in the country.

This is a huge double victory for Israel. First, the ban punishes the two Squad members and sends a message against BDS (which is, again, a non-violent and legitimate tactic), while appeasing President Trump. Now, this.

The “humanitarian” permit means the complete de-politicizing of Tlaib. She will no longer be visiting as a political leader, a U.S. congresswoman enjoying freedom of movement. For Israel, Tlaib has now been “demoted” to the position of all Palestinians who need to beg for Israel’s mercy, as the all-powerful occupier of their land, in order to travel, work, study, or simply reunite with loved ones.

Once de-politicized, Israel can accept Tlaib, and even take credit for being a generous, benevolent occupier. That’s what most people are likely to remember from this story: that at the end of the day, Israel “did the right thing,” and that Tlaib got to visit her family in the occupied Palestinian territories. The initial ban on Tlaib and her continued ban as a congresswoman, together with Rep. Omar, will probably be forgotten. This will save Democrats the bother of having to oppose Israeli policies and, by extension, having to enlist for the rights of Palestinians and defend the right of free speech in the U.S., including BDS.

We can hope this won’t be the case, and call on Democrats to see through Israel’s trick. Let’s hope there’ll be someone listening.

Editor’s note: The article was updated on Friday to include a sixth point, following news of Tlaib’s approved entry to Palestine for a humanitarian visit.

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    1. Bruce Gould

      “AIPAC splits with Trump and Netanyahu, backs visit by Omar and Tlaib to Israel…The prominent pro-Israel group American Israel Public Affairs Committee suggested Thursday it opposed a move by Israel — and supported by President Donald Trump — to bar Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country.”


      Also: “The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) on Thursday broke with Israel’s decision to bar Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) from visiting the country, saying “every member of Congress should be able to visit.” ”


      Reply to Comment
    2. Nathanael

      I boycotted apartheid South Africa, I demanded divestment, and by golly, I’m going to do the same for apartheid Israel. And genocidal Myanmar.

      The Israeli government is anti-Semitic and promotes hate crimes against Jewish people worldwide. This is actually deliberate policy; Netenyahu celebrates every time there is a hate crime against Jewish people, because he wants to spread the lie that Jewish people are unsafe elsewhere. In reality, Jewish people are safer in Iran than in Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • itshak Gordine

        You take your dreams for realities. We are very happy in Israel. As Jews, we are much safer there than in Europe and the USA. In addition, life is very pleasant: warm weather, very dynamic youth, prosperous economy, unemployment at the lowest and birth rate at the highest .. It’s not bad for a “hell”, right?

        Reply to Comment
      • grab

        you are an idiot. I think you either have “class or Race envy”

        Reply to Comment
    3. itshak Gordine

      Of course not. We can only congratulate the Israeli government for its decision. BDS is a racist and illegal association in several countries, including Israel. These two parliamentarians came in order to create disorders and their visit would provoke troubles that could be serious, including their visit to the Temple Mount. They have always distinguished themselves by their hatred of Israel and their anti-Semitic statements. Even the US president is wary of it and warned Israel not to receive it. No country in the world would accept receiving hostile people on its soil. The other members of the Democratic Party will of course be welcomed as friends.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        It would be hard to top this for its peculiar cluelessness. There is the usual anti-Semitizing nonsense: “racist…illegal…hatred of Israel, anti-Semitic.” There is the usual obfuscation about soil and to whom it belongs. But then this confection is married to this spectacularly fatuous cherry on top:

        “Even the US president is wary of it and warned Israel not to receive it.”

        This so misunderstands Trump’s and Netanyahu’s actual base motives as to be comical, and hilariously tries to pass over on us a portrayal of Bibi’s Israel as this naïve little chump that had to be “warned” at the last minute that the vewy, vewy baaaaad US Congresswomen were coming!

        “Oh my god! You mean United States Congresswomen?! Exercising Article 1 Constitutionally-mandated duties that their constituents expect them to exercise?! The horror! We never saw it coming! Thank god for Trump! Fire up Iron Dome! It’s US Congress terror! We will know what to do! ‘Bibi is weak on US Congress terror!’ shouts the so-called Israeli left, led by so-called Leftist General Benny Gantz….

        …thank god for a US president pushing a foreign government like us to refuse entry to U.S. public officials! So normal!”

        Reply to Comment
    4. Ben

      Read points 1-8 by Tareq Baconi. I agree with every one of them:

      1/ The very basic fact that Israel can prevent American congresswomen from touring the Palestinian territories is all the evidence one needs to show that Palestinians are living in a one-state reality under absolute Israeli control and sovereignty.

      2/ This decision is excused using accusations of antisemitism and security. To be clear, this is about nothing other than shutting down freedom of expression and policing political opinion; only the right kind of American, with the right kind of politics, can get in.

      3/ Outrage over this decision is appropriate, but this cannot hide the fact that Israel has routinely prevented Americans (and Europeans, and Australians, etc.) from entering based on ethnicity (Palestinianness), religion (Islam), or political views (supporters of boycott).

      4/ That Israel can escalate its racial profiling to the level of US congresswomen breaks with diplomatic protocol – yet it is likely that there will be no political response, given the Trump-Bibi convergence around racist populist ideology.

      5/ In the meantime, Israeli citizens enjoy free access to US/EU, despite this reciprocity not being granted to Americans/Europeans of Palestinian descent. Moreover, Israeli officials, even those with pending lawsuits for war crimes, have been allowed free passage.

      6/ The claim by supporters of this move that Israel has “nothing to hide” is ludicrous. One cannot demand that Israel be seen as a democracy and insist it has nothing to hide while also supporting such actions.

      7/ Israel’s decision to close its borders to congresswomen; its internal crackdown on human rights activists, e.g. @OmarSShakir ; and its routine prevention (and killing) of journalists/investigators, including in Gaza, all point to one fact: Israel has quite a bit to hide.

      8/ This is simply the latest, and most visible, example of policing free speech, ensuring the ongoing occupation is whitewashed and met with limited exposure and criticism, and fortifying fortress Israel.

      Reply to Comment
      • Lewis from Afula

        There is no such thing as “fakestinians”.
        You are actually referring to a bunch of Jordanians who have renamed themselves for tactical purposes.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Don’t you ever get tired of this silly claptrap? So mindless.

          Reply to Comment
          • Lewis from Afula

            ………………..says a mindless Marxist supporting racist, Gay-murdering, Hitlerites who still hold old Jordanian IDs & passports.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Anne Rutherford

      I wish they had gone to Israel with the American delegation. They could still have made their voices heard. There was no need for them to single themselves out just to be controversial

      Reply to Comment