Last week will go down in history as one of Israel’s worst weeks ever in its relationship with the United States dating back to its establishment in 1948.
For Israel, it was a terrible week that wreaked with unprecedented criticism from friend and foe over its decision to deny US Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota permission to visit Israel to perform their duties as duly elected members of the United States Congress.
Rep. Omar serves on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and is a member of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations while Rep. Tlaib serves on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, among others.
The visa denial promptly backfired in Israel’s face, as it did in Trump’s face, like a ticking time bomb that was ready to explode. The whole incident unraveled a pandora’s box of issues that Israel now wishes it had kept a lid on.
1. Trump – Whose President, are You?
As President of the United States, you would assume that Trump would take seriously his oath to work for and defend the people of the United States, its institutions and their interests. However, his tweet directed at Netanyahu has done just the opposite. In the tweet, Trump is telling a foreign country that “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar & 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 in office.”
Seriously Mr. President?
Are you not instigating a foreign government against members of your own Congress? Are you not obstructing their ability to fulfill their congressional duties for which they were elected? These congresswomen have the right, actually the obligation, to go on fact-finding missions to other countries, no less Israel, the largest recipient of US aid.
Some have even suggested that this presidential interference and this obstruction in the ability of elected officials to carry out their duties is sufficient to cause for initiating impeachment procedures against Trump!
Joe Biden, a front-runner in the Democratic presidential primaries had this to say: “No leader of the free world should encourage democracy to deny entry to visitors based on the content of their ideas – even ideas they strongly object to.” While another Democratic front-runner, Kamala Harris, added that “Trump is playing politics as he weakens our global leadership.”
By targeting Tlaib and Omar, Trump wants the progressive wing of the Democratic party, presumably the “radicals,” to be the recognizable faces of the Democrats come the November 2020 elections.
2. Democrats Rallied Behind Both Omar and Tlaib
Democratic leaders, who have clashed with the progressive wing of the party that includes Omar and Tlaib over their anti-Israel stance and their support of BDS, rallied in force behind Omar and Tlaib. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Israel’s decision as “beneath the dignity of the great State of Israel.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was furious. He said, “to my knowledge, no Member of Congress has ever been asked to agree to preconditions in order to visit Israel,” and that Israel’s handling of Tlaib was “not only disrespectful of Rep. Tlaib but of the United States Congress as well.”
Hoyer’s criticism is particularly significant because only the week before he had proudly led a delegation of 41 Democratic members of Congress to Israel. During that visit, Hoyer highlighted the party’s support of the Jewish state, opposed the BDS movement, and defended Netanyahu from accusations of racism. His anger over the Tlaib and Omar incidents shows that even very strong supporters of Israel are feeling betrayed by Netanyahu.
Leading Democratic frontrunners for the party’s 2020 nomination also criticized Israel’s decision. Bernie Sanders called Israel’s move “a sign of enormous disrespect to the elected leaders, the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy.” While Kamala Harris took the opportunity to blast Israel calling its behavior “an affront to the United States. Open and engaged foreign relations are critical to advancing US interests.”
3. Republican Supporters Criticized Both Israel and Trump
Even some of Israel’s ardent Republican supporters criticized Israel. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida called Israel’s action against Omar and Tlaib a mistake. He added that “Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.”
Joe Walsh, a former Republican congressman tweeted: “Not good. Israel should have been bigger than Trump here. And that’s not asking a lot.”
4. Provided Tlaib and Omar a Forum to Air their Grievances Against Israel
Once Israel’s decision was made public to deny their visas, both Congresswomen spared no time in criticizing Israel and Netanyahu for consistently resisting peace efforts, for restricting Palestinians’ freedoms, for limiting public knowledge of the brutal realities of the occupation, for aligning themselves with Islamophobic leaders like Trump, and for implementing “Trump’s Muslim ban.”
Omar’s role on the House Foreign Affairs Committee calls on her to conduct oversight of American foreign aid – a constitutional duty denied to her by the largest recipient of America’s largess.
Tlaib also tweeted that Israel’s decision “to ban a US Congressman is a sign of weakness b/c the truth of what is happening to Palestinians is frightening.”