Media Analysis

Israel’s decision to bar Tlaib/Omar anguishes US supporters, who blame Trump-Netanyahu political tactics

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The news this morning that Israel will bar a visit by U.S. Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar because they endorse the boycott campaign aimed at the country (BDS) has brought a tsunami of reactions on social media. American supporters of Israel almost across the board are condemning the decision as a gift to the BDS campaign and a further fracturing of bipartisan support for Israel in U.S. politics.

And after Donald Trump cheered the decision this morning, saying Israel would show “great weakness” if it allowed Omar and Tlaib to visit, liberal Zionists have responded by saying that Trump and Netanyahu are trying to make political hay out of the banning for their short-term gains: Netanyahu needs to rally right wing voters in order to head off a challenge from the center in September’s elections. While Trump is trying to paint the Democratic Party as anti-Israel in order to win over the Israel lobby to his side.

But let’s go to Twitter. Even rightwing supporters of Israel are going haywire over the decision. Bret Stephens:

Bad decision.

Yair Rosenberg calls Netanyahu’s decision “something incredibly stupid and self-destructive to Israel and its international standing.”

Rep. Nita Lowey announced later this morning that she is “saddened” by the decision. Rep. Jerrold Nadler urges Israel to reconsider. Politico reports that Lowey, Nadler and other pro-Israel Reps– Steny Hoyer, Brad Schneider and Josh Gottheimer– all lobbied the Israeli ambassador yesterday not to go through with the bar.

[Update] Chuck Schumer just condemned the decision. “It will only hurt the U.S.-Israel relationship and support for Israel in America.”

A Democratic Party Zionist organization is condemning the decision as “wrong and unwise” (though it says Tlaib and Omar had planned an “unbalanced” visit).

Even AIPAC faults Israel’s decision.

We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.

Former US ambassador Dan Shapiro says it’s an own-goal committed by Netanyahu:

Original Israeli decision to allow Tlaib/Omar visit was wise. Reversal makes little sense. I disagree with their stands on Israel, have criticized them. But zero harm in letting them come learn, see (even if they had an agenda). Reversal harms Israel’s standing in US, boosts BDS.

Liberals are also freaking out. The liberal Zionist group J Street says the apparent decision is “a declaration of war” against US progressives that is sure to fracture Israel support here and elevate the Boycott campaign.

Banning two Members of Congress from visiting Israel is like a ‘declaration of war’ against American liberals and progressives. Decision both morally wrong and strategically stupid.

Ben Silverstein of J Street calls the decision a “watershed moment for the U.S.-Israel relationship.” Dylan Williams of J Street sees a BDS victory:

This may be the BDS movement’s most successful media moment ever, all thanks to @IsraeliPM Netanyahu and Trump

More from Williams on BDS’s good fortune:

Recent polling shows most Democratic voters haven’t heard of the BDS movement, but thanks to @IsraeliPM’s move to bar Reps. Omar and Tlaib from Israel, many of them will learn about it today in the context of Israel showing gross disrespect to high-profile members of their party

David Rothkopf observes:

If BDS were a company, I would suspect Bibi had stock in it. Seldom has a public official done so much to advance the legitimacy of a movement he opposed.

Now let’s move on to the politics. Donald Trump celebrated the apparent decision at 9:57 this morning, a couple hours after the news first hit social media. He smeared the congresswomen, whom he has used as a racist punching bag.

It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and 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 back in office. They are a disgrace!

Trump’s reaction seals the deal, Lahav Harkov of the Jerusalem Post says: 

Well, that’s that. I’d be very surprised if Netanyahu lets them in after this.

Yair Rosenberg agrees:

That’s it, they’re banned. Bibi will never *ever* say no to Trump, and now he has to parrot Trumpian dictates as to who Israel lets into the country. Netanyahu poses as a strong leader to his public, but he’ll jump when Trump says jump.

Netanyahu needs to gin up his rightwing base for the September 17 election. Dimi Reider explains the politics of Netanyahu’s decision:

It’s electioneering by interior minister Aryeh Deri. His party, Shas, is skirting elex barrier in Sept w ~5 seats, & only political currency in Israel worth mining is outflanking Netanyahu on the right. C’est tout. If visit was in Oct he wouldnt bother.

Reider’s point is that rightwing votes get dispersed/wasted if the parties they went to fall below a 3.25%  threshhold in the Israeli election. So Netanyahu needs the rightwing parties to exceed the threshhold to have the numbers to make a rightwing coalition. And he also needs to drive the Israeli discourse in a far-right direction so as to drive down the power of his archrival in the election: Avigdor Lieberman, who as a center-right kingmaker could decide Netanyahu’s fate. Netanyahu wants Lieberman gone, or to get so many seats in the parliament himself that Lieberman will have no say over his future.

American Zionists are blaming Trump. Silverstein of J Street:

another demonstration of how the joint Netanyahu-Trump campaign committee will invariably put their political futures before the interests of the United States and Israel

Jennifer Rubin, rightwing Israel supporter at the Washington Post, calls the decision “a huge, unprecedented mistake. No critics allowed in Israel? outrageous.” But she puts the onus on Trump hurting Israel and the U.S.:

Israel is a democracy. Weak, fearful countries don’t allow critics in. But then as someone weak and fearful and not pro-democracy you don’t get that, I know. And btw how DARE the US president advocate for excluding an American from anywhere in the world.

The Jewish Democratic Council of America also blames Trump, not Netanyahu. It worries that he will further Democratic Party criticisms of Israel, and the boycott campaign..

[W]e urge the government of Israel to reject President Trump’s unprecedented and ill-advised recommendation to deny Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) entry into Israel.

Once again, President Trump has inappropriately interfered in Israel’s democracy, to the detriment of the U.S.-Israel relationship….

Preventing members of Congress from visiting Israel is effectively forcing them to boycott. This is unwise and counterproductive. Certainly, it is not the way to fight the global BDS movement, which we strongly oppose.

Danny Ayalon, a former Israeli ambassador, defends the decision as many Israel supporters do by smearing the congresswomen:

When the two racist anti-semitic members of Congress refused to visit Israel with Steny Hoyer – whose delegation heard from wide-ranging Israeli & Palestinian leaders on all sides of the spectrum – it became clear their intention isn’t just to visit, but to cause provocations.

Dylan Williams of J Street says, “This is incitement.”

H/t James North, Allison Deger, Adam Horowitz, Dave Reed, Michael Arria.


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Jennifer Rubin’s comment…

Israel is a democracy. Weak, fearful countries don’t allow critics in. But then as someone weak and fearful and not pro-democracy you don’t get that, I know. …

…is amusingly lacking in self-awareness, I know.

RE: “That’s it, they’re banned. Bibi will never *ever* say no to Trump, and now he has to parrot Trumpian dictates as to who Israel lets into the country.” ~ Yair Rosenberg A POSSIBLE REASON NETANYAHU WANTS TO SUCK UP TO TRUMP (ESPECIALLY NOW): ■ “Before election, PM aims for Trump backing for Israel sovereignty at settlements” By Shalom Yerushalmi | | 12 August 2019 Officials in Netanyahu’s office confident US president will make… Read more »

“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. ” AIPAC .

What,s the problem AIPACERS , Israel with your full backing is building a One State Solution.

“Political Tactics” my a$$.This ls about 2 desperate men trying to stay in power because they know they are both going to jail the minute they leave office and they won,t see the outside of a prison for a considerable time.In Trumps case , he will spend longer in prison then he was in office.Not the case with Netanyahu , sadly. BTW , a suggestion to Rename 5th ave to Barak Obama ave is making… Read more »

I just watched the PBS newshour on this right now. Here is a summary. Not exact quotes, but it gives the sense of what was said. Former Israeli ambassador—BDS is antisemitic PBS reporter—. You let other antisemites in, like Orban. Why is this different? Next for the other side we have Democratic congressman Brad Sherman— Sherman— Trump is the big bully who forced Israel to do this, Israel a tiny little country with one friend… Read more »