It is no secret that Donald Trump is not above colluding with foreign governments to undermine American democracy. Admittedly, there is fairly limited coverage when he does it for real. This week, the president urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to push ahead with banning elected US Muslim Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering his country’s territories. The pair had been set to travel to Israel and the occupied territories in the coming weeks for a dialogue with parties on both sides of the conflict.
Both Tlaib and Omar regularly find themselves the targets of racist attacks by Trump and others. Their enemies also accuse them of the so-called “new anti-Semitism,” a staggeringly transparent propaganda campaign that uses accusations of anti-Jewish hatred to silence critics of Israeli aggression.
In response to the ban, Omar and Tlaib held a press conference on Monday, streamed live on YouTube. The comments section was filled with racist and abusive comments, such as “Trump is making America clean and pure again” and “I want to feed Omar’s Q-tip head to my dog.” The words “send them back” appeared repeatedly, after Trump used Twitter last month to suggest that Omar and Tlaib and two other U.S. Congresswomen should “go back and fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” The Tweet was also directed at Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley. The four have been dubbed “The Squad.”
Global support for the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is at an all-time low and has fallen even among the US population.
Global support for the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories is at an all-time low and has fallen even among the US population. In light of this the right-wing, Likud-led government in Israel needs to feed its base at home and abroad by pursuing extreme, populist policies, each more outlandish than the last. In its latter days, the Obama administration showed tentative signs of diluting the fanatical US support that has been afforded to Israeli expansion as a routine matter of policy for decades. Now, in the Trump-Bolton-Pompeo era, the Israeli right-wing has found the ideal bedfellows once again. This week, these partners colluded to ban elected US politicians Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel, an act for which Trump might be accused of treason were he to undertake it in collusion with any other state.
Initially Omar and Tlaib were granted entry to Israel, where they had planned to speak to officials both in the occupied territories and Israel proper. Remarkably, President Trump then tweeted that Israel would “show great weakness” if it allowed the elected Muslim congresswomen to enter.
Taking this cue as permission to act, Israel then reversed its decision and barred the pair from entering the country. Following this, Tlaib wrote a letter to PM Netanyahu, explaining that the visit would likely be her last opportunity to see her grandmother, now in her 90s, who lives in Beit Ur Al-Fauqa in the West Bank. In response, the Israeli government relaxed its position, allowing Tlaib to enter, while upholding the ban on Omar. It set conditions, however, on what Tlaib would be able to do in Israel. Tlaib would be barred from discussing most political issues, including any mention of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
Because of these undemocratic restrictions, Tlaib ultimately decided not to go ahead with the visit, as she would have been prevented from carrying out the work she had planned to do. That Trump would act to undermine legitimate activities of elected US politicians, to serve the interests of an ideologically extreme foreign government, is shocking even by the standards of this administration.
There was once a time when support for such policies could be relied upon from within the US population, from Democratic and Republican voters. While support for Israel within the US political establishment is almost as strong as ever, popular opinion has shifted radically.
In the age of information, the Israeli government is doomed to long term failure if it continues in such extreme actions. Israel relies almost entirely upon US diplomatic and military support for policies such as expansion of its illegal settlements and the siege of Gaza. There was once a time when support for such policies could be relied upon from within the US population, from Democratic and Republican voters. While support for Israel within the US political establishment is almost as strong as ever, popular opinion has shifted radically.
In fact, support for Israeli expansion is now something of a far-right issue, with its only reliable supporters being evangelical Christians and nationalist right-wingers. Younger voters in the country are now more likely to express solidarity with the cause of the Palestinians than with the state of Israel, bringing them in line with the views of the overwhelming majority of the international community. In this context, Israel is primarily harming itself in the long-run by moving further and further outside of the worldwide consensus of opinion, global norms, and international law.
The reaction of Tlaib and Omar shows that there is hope for the future. Instead of backing down and learning their place as the Trump administration wished, they are standing up and fighting back. In short, they have done the exact opposite of what the British Labour Party has done in response to the smears and baseless accusations of anti-Semitism being levelled against it by the political establishment. Tlaib and Omar have understood the futility of taking time to respond to insincere charges—the better course is to use the publicity that comes with these attacks to talk about the issues that matter. If Trump says they “hate America” and should “go back to their own countries,” they use the opportunity to talk about racism in America. If Netanyahu and Trump mount a smear campaign attacking left-wingers as anti-Semites, they respond by talking about the brutalization of the Palestinian people. This is how the ratchet gets turned. There is every hope that in the end, the truth will prevail.