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After Tlaib and Omar Are Barred by Netanyahu, Why Would Any Self-Respecting Democrats in Congress Do the AIPAC Tour Again?

Dem leaders Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and Steny Hoyer condemned the move, but it is unlikely that they will do more than that.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) speaks in Washington, D.C. on April 9, 2019. (Photo by Alex Edelman/Getty Images)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has barred Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting Israel. This is an about-face of enormous proportions, since Israel has been inveigling US politicians to come to Israel for decades, in hopes of propagandizing on the Israeli point of view. The US is thought to have given Israel over $100 billion over the years, and still gives $3 bn a year (much more if you count tariff abatements and forms of technological transfer).

Netanyahu maintains that the two representatives had planned to use their visit to undermine Israel’s legitimacy. Both are members of the Democratic Socialists of America, a caucus within the Democratic Party, which takes the stance that a boycott should be launched against Israel to force it to cease usurping Palestinian land and to force it to give Palestinians the right to have citizenship in a state– whether an independent state, or in Tlaib’s case, Israel itself.

Note that this campaign does not target Israel but rather Israeli oppression of 5 million Palestinians, whom it denies basic rights of citizenship.

I wrote on another occasion:

“Supporters of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) on Israel are protesting the continued Israeli military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, the illegal Israeli blockade on Palestinian civilians in Gaza, and the system of land theft and denial of basic human rights imposed by Israel, which has become a form of Apartheid or in American terms, Jim Crow.

They might also be protesting the formal Israeli government policy of shooting down unarmed protesters with snipers who gather on the Palestinian side of the Gaza border to protest the boycott and blockade that Israel has imposed on them. Israeli snipers have killed hundreds of these protesters in the past two years and wounded thousands, often maiming them for life. The Israeli boycott of Gaza means that the victims of these war crimes cannot get good medical treatment in Gaza; Israel often won’t let them be treated elsewhere, and so they lose limbs that might otherwise have been saved. The US press often mischaracterizes all this as “clashes” at the border, but extensive video and photographic evidence demonstrates that Israeli snipers are shooting down people who pose no danger to anyone, including sometimes medics, journalists, children, and unarmed women and men.

If any other country behaved this way, Congress itself would impose a boycott on it.

The entire affair has been roiled by a series of contradictions. Netanyahu began by allowing the two representatives into the country, but then Trump tweeted that that would make Israel look weak, so Netanyahu reversed himself. Then another Israeli official intimated that the two could visit the Palestinian West Bank. But that suggestion was shot down as well. Then the Israelis said that Rep. Tlaib could visit Her 90-year-old grandmother in the West Bank. But they put restrictions on her to keep the visit private and not to mention anything about BDS or boycott, divestment and sanctions.

The spectacle of Israel telling a sitting US congresswoman what they can say and what positions they can advocate for indicates how low US prestige has fallen in the world.

Tlaib would like to see her family but not at such a cost. She also could not afford to submit to such humiliation and still hold her head up high before her own constituents in Dearborn Heights. So she declined the offer.

Sen. Bernie Sanders suggested that if Israel does not what congressional representatives to visit, it might like to give back some of the billions of dollars in aid for which Congress votes.

Dem leaders Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Steny Hoyer condemned the move, but it is unlikely that they will do more than that.

If the Democratic party had any backbone it would stop participating in the humiliating annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) propaganda visits to Israel, as a form of protest.

Juan Cole

Juan Cole

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon's Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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