There has been a chorus of liberal lamentations over the flap created by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to deny two US Congresswomen, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, the right to visit occupied Palestinian lands. The anguish expressed by a number of politicians and commentators has taken a variety of forms – most, however, completely missing the mark.
Some Democrats have blamed US President Donald Trump saying that it was his tweet to Netanyahu that caused the Israeli to reverse himself and deny entry. Others expressed “deep disappointment” with the Netanyahu decision, worrying about the impact it would have on the growing partisan divide over attitudes towards Israel. While still others put these two concerns together, insisting that is the Trump-Netanyahu partnership that is solely responsible for the breakdown of bipartisan support for Israel.
These views are ahistorical, naïve and insulting to the intelligence of the many American political constituencies whose views towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have changed during the past several decades. They also, quite amazingly, ignore the role played by the growing public awareness of the sheer brutality of the Israeli occupation and the resultant reality of Palestinian suffering.
During the 1990s, the divide was reinforced as the Republican party fell hostage to the religious right and the neo-Conservatives who combined to oppose President Clinton’s push for an Israeli-Palestinian peace. Back then, it was Speaker Newt Gingrich’s embrace of Israel’s Likud party that resulted in legislation that impeded the Oslo peace process, culminating in Gingrich’s invitation to Netanyahu to deliver his first address to a Joint Session of Congress. The Israeli leader used that speech to make clear his intention to literally bury the “Oslo Accords.”
This divide only grew with the election of President Barack Obama and the return to power in Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu. The Israeli’s efforts to stymie Obama’s peacemaking diplomacy served to exacerbate the split. When Republicans once again invited Netanyahu to address a Joint Session, this time to oppose the Iran nuclear deal, the
Democratic/Republican rupture was on full display – with 60 Democrats taking the unprecedented step of boycotting the speech.
When Bernie Sanders ran for president in 2016, he gave voice to the growing disenchantment of Democratic voters with the party establishments support for Israel. For the first time since Jackson in 1988, we had a full-throated debate on Israel’s occupations policies.
More than Trump and Netanyahu creating the divide, they are reflecting it and exacerbating it. Trump is simply a cruder version of Gingrich and Bush. And Netanyahu reflects mainstream Israeli attitudes towards the occupation. What the courageous leadership of Tlaib, a Palestinian American, and Omar, a Somali-Yemeni American immigrant, have done is to make such a façade of unanimity impossible to maintain.
Just last week, 41 Democrats and 31 Republican travelled to Israel on an AIPAC trip to demonstrate their support. It was interesting to note that most of the Democrats didn’t tweet about their visit.
But the Tlaib-Omar visit was to be something else. They were going to expose the reality of Palestinian daily life under occupation. They were going to visit the wall that separates Palestinians from their lands. They were going to refugee camps now cut off from US funding. And they were going to hear stories of real people and how their lives have been affected by an oppressive and humiliating occupation. And the Press would be with them every step of the way.
At first Netanyahu begrudgingly agreed to the visit, but then turned to Trump to give him a way out. When Trump obliged, the Israeli Prime Minister backtracked hoping it would put an end to the potential embarrassment. Instead, the whole episode has exposed the real Israel known all too well by the Palestinian citizens of the state, and the countless
Arab Americans who have faced discrimination, detention or denial of entry for decades when attempting to visit the Occupied Territories.
The Israeli occupation has been enabled by both Republican encouragement and the cowardice of the Democratic establishment to challenge it. What’s new is that the voices of the Democratic voters, long disenchanted by their leadership’s acquiescence now have champions in Congress who are bringing this divide into the open. And Congresswomen
Tlaib and Omar exposed all this without even setting foot in Israel or Palestine. I, for one, cannot wait for them to conduct their official visit.