The U.S. president accused Representative Rashida Tlaib of a political stunt when the American politician of Palestinian descent rejected Israel’s offer of permission to visit the West Bank on humanitarian grounds.
Israel’s government had first announced that it would permit visits to Palestine by Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar, another of the four members of the “squad” of progressive women of colour elected to Congress as Democrats in last November’s U.S. midterm elections. Then, apparently after Donald Trump intervened with his continued vendetta against the women, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu changed their minds and declared that the congresswomen would not be permitted to go to Palestine. Then, in another twist, Israel decided to allow Tlaib admission based on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her grandmother and other relatives in the West Bank. Tlaib rejected the offer.
“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me,” Tlaib tweeted about her grandmother. “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.”
Putting ideology over seeing a nonagenarian grandparent seems a tad distorted, but she’s probably correct that Israel’s actions were over-the-top.
The idea that Israel should ban members of the United States Congress from entering the country (en route to the West Bank, which is occupied by Israeli forces, which means Israel controls who can enter and move around there) is a highly dubious move. Given Tlaib’s and Omar’s unrelenting condemnation of Israel and its policies, including support for the BDS movement, some people argued that Israel should ban them. But almost every mainstream Jewish and Zionist organization in the United States that spoke up argued that they should be permitted to go.
In fact, it would have been smart to invite the two as guests of the Israeli government and give them the VIP tour of Israel. Then, they would have at least have heard the Israeli side of the story, take it or leave it. More to the point, had they refused the invitation to see the modern miracle that is the Jewish state, they might have looked closed-minded.
Instead, the two Democrats have come out of it looking righteous, while Netanyahu looks like Trump’s puppet and Trump looks like, well, like he usually does. Especially when he tweeted that the only winner in the scenario is Tlaib’s grandmother because “She doesn’t have to see her now!” One wonders about what goes through the minds Trump’s grandchildren when he blusters into the room.
On the one hand, the recent vote in Congress to criticize the BDS movement was massively lopsided and indicates that Israel’s special relationship with the United States remains steadfast. But among grassroots Democratic voters and some other Americans, the Netanyahu-Trump bromance is repellent and makes some people naturally less amenable to the bilateral relationship – specifically because it has been so spectacularly and cynically politicized by both leaders.
There are serious and legitimate fears that the solid bipartisanship that has defined this relationship for 71 years is fraying, possibly irrevocably.
It doesn’t matter what one thinks of Trump. It doesn’t matter if you agree with the board member of the Republican Jewish Coalition who told the New York Times, “When I look at what he’s done for Israel, I’m not going to take issue with anything he’s said or done.” The day-to-day cut-and-thrust of politics means we will agree and disagree with our leaders in Canada, or those in the United States or Israel or elsewhere. But the deterioration of the nonpartisanship around the foundational importance of the bilateral relationship between Israel and its most significant ally is a grave concern.
We have an election campaign about to launch here in Canada. There will be moments when Middle East policy comes up and we will disagree. What we should strive to ensure is that, regardless of our opinions about Israel’s leader – and what position he may hold after next month’s Israeli elections – or our thoughts about our own political leaders, one thing we should avoid at all cost is turning Israel into a partisan tool. Let’s just not. And let’s not reward politicians who try.