The issue of occupied Palestine once again took center stage in the world press when two women members of the congressional Squad—Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—were initially denied the right to enter Israel by its fascistic Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Aug. 15, at the urging of white supremacist U.S. President Donald Trump.
Just last month at a xenophobic rally in North Carolina, Trump called for these two congresspeople, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), to be “sent back” to their countries of origin in response to their criticism of Trump’s racism toward migrants.
It was the first time that U.S. congressional representatives were denied the right to visit Israel. Why now?
Netanyahu explained the denial in a statement: “As a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for, and work to impose, boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prevent the entry of people believed to be damaging to the country.” (New York Times, Aug. 15)
Omar, who is Somali, and Tlaib, who is Palestinian, have especially been outspoken against the inhumane treatment of the Palestinian people, who have been systematically denied the right to their homeland since the Zionist state of Israel was established in 1947. The two women are also strong supporters of the U.S.-based Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. In fact, Omar introduced a resolution in Congress in support of boycotting Israel and asserting the right of groups to call such actions.
Tlaib has demanded that the money funding Zionist settlements and the Israeli military be spent on providing health care, education and other human needs at home.
In describing their trip to “Palestine,” not “Israel,” the two said they had hoped to meet with an Arab representative in the Israeli-majority Parliament and to pay visits to the occupied territories of Hebron, Ramallah, the West Bank and the Al Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem. Tlaib was also planning to visit her 90-year-old grandmother, Muftiyah Tlaib, who lives in the West Bank.
The denial of entry created opposition within both big business parties, with even Republicans who support Trump saying that the decision would set an unwelcome precedent for other elected officials and prominent figures planning trips to Israel. Even the extreme right-wing, pro-Zionist American Israel Public Affairs Committee denounced the decision.
This criticism had more to do with trying to protect the decades-long illusion of Israel as being a model of “democracy” in the oil-rich region. In reality, Israel is a racist, white settler regime, a garrison state that protects the superprofits of U.S. imperialism.
Rejecting Netanyahu’s terms
As the denunciations continued to mount, Netanyahu quickly reversed his decision just 24 hours later on Aug. 16, with the provision that Omar and Tlaib not propagate pro-BDS campaigns during their visit.
Tlaib then emphatically stated that she would not go due to Netanyahu’s oppressive restrictions.
Her statement read in part: “The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter—reflecting just how undemocratic and afraid they are of the truth my trip would reveal about what is happening in the State of Israel and to Palestinians living under occupation with United States support.” (Washington Post, Aug. 16)
Israeli officials are claiming that Tlaib’s rejection of the trip restrictions was just a provocation, trying to give the false impression that anyone who opposes Israel’s policies is either anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish.
The U.S. ruling class, including Democrats and Republicans, is united in its defense of the Israeli state, despite any differences in policies or tactics its members may have with various Israeli rulers.
The fact that Israel received $3.3 billion in aid this year from the U.S. government, a $200 million increase from 2018, reflects the strong geopolitical, strategic alliance that has existed between the two countries for more than 70 years.
The movement must continue to defend elected officials, especially those of color, when targeted by the right wing, which relies on divide-and-conquer tactics to maintain the status quo. Groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace have taken principled stances to defend both Tlaib and Omar. Comparing the detention of migrants in the U.S. to the internment of Jewish people in concentration camps during World War II, the groups have been organizing protests inside the U.S.