The Omar/Talib Israel Controversy
For those of you who are news junkies like me, the news the trip to Israel requested by Congresswomen Rashid Talib and Ilhan Omar has illustrated how personalized and ineffective our diplomatic efforts are currently. Talib and Omar represent Congressional House seats in Michigan and Minnesota respectively. Talib was born in Detroit and is an American citizen although her relatives came from Palestine. Omar was born in Somalia but came to the U.S. with her parents. She became a naturalized American citizen when she was 17 years old.
Talib’s grandmother lives in the West Bank and is old and ill. As their visa requests to Israel were being considered, Trump tweeted out his feelings that neither woman should be allowed in Israel. They were both Democrats and the party line and elected officials were anti-Israel and supported the BDS movemernt (Boycott and Divestment) against Israel. While both women have voiced support for the BDS movement neither is an active participant or leader.
This presented a great dilemma to Israel. If they grant a visa they are going against Trump and if they deny the visa they are really upsetting the Democrat half of the U.S. Electorate. Support for Israel has traditional been bi-partisan. As a generalization most Jewish residents of the U.S. tend to vote Democrat. The reason is Jews tend to favor the downtrodden and outcasts and at least on the surface that aligns with Democrat values. However, Trump is trying to convert Jews to the Republican brand by being very supportive of Israel, moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, giving the Golan Heights to Israel and taking away financial support to Palestinians.
Nonetheless, Israel did not want to get in the middle of a war between Congress and Trump. The pressure escalated when even AIPAC criticized Israel for denying visas to U.S. Congress members. Just about every Democrat politician criticized Israel for this decision and even some Republicans like Marco Rubio joined in the criticism. Israel then tried to calm both sides by providing a “humanitarian” visa to Talib to visit her grandmother only and no visa to Omar. Furthermore Talib had to promise no political commentary. This satisfied no one and the trip has been cancelled.
I am of two minds with respect to the BDS movement against Israel. I certainly understand the reasons behind it and it worked to change South Africa’s discrimination. A boycott is essentially a personal decision and talking about it and promoting it is akin to free speech. In Israel there are tremendous differences of opinion on the Palestinian question and those differences are aired every day and very publicly. However, Israel has always been extremely sensitive to outside criticism. The attitude is “if you don’t live here and face what we have to face, then shut up”. I know because every time I travel to Israel I am met by Shin Bet with their file on every comment and post I make about Israel.
I find it quite hypocritical that Israel does not like any semblance of a boycott against them. For example if you travel to Bethlehem you can have a Palestinian guide but as soon as you cross into Jerusalem, you better change to a Jewish guide or you will be harassed endlessly. While not official, it is expected that Jewish Israelis NEVER buy from Palestinian companies or stores. I would say that Jewish boycott of Palestinian products is somewhere in the 95% range.
Someday this might change but not anytime soon.