Now is the time for the Democratic Party to stand up to Israeli racism

Nada Elia – August 15, 2019
The lines dividing Progressives and supporters of apartheid are becoming clearer, and they are not along Democratic and Republican party lines.

With Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statement that he will bar US Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering occupied Palestine—a visit that would have followed closely on the AIPAC-sponsored trip of approximately 70 first-year members of Congress—one should expect strong and spontaneous support for Tlaib and Omar’s from their Democratic colleagues. Instead, it took grassroots activist mobilizing to call on Tlaib and Omar’s peers to condemn Netanyahu’s ban, and Trump’s support for this ban.
The pressure seems to be working, with some Democrats issuing strong statements, such as fellow “Squad” member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had skipped the AIPAC trip, tweeting that “MoC are frequently asked to visit Israel to ‘see things for ourselves.’ But Netanyahu choosing to ban the only 2 Muslim women in Congress from entering tells the US that only *some* Americans are welcome to Israel, not all.” Ocasio-Cortez concludes her tweet with the accusation that “Trump is exporting his bigotry &making matters worse,” but the reality is that Netanyahu, and Israel generally, have not had to wait for Trump’s bigotry before engaging in discrimination.
Similarly, Representative Judy Chu also seems to suggest Trump, rather than Netanyahu, are to blame for this latest act of discrimination. Chu tweeted that “Banning Muslims from travel is one of Trump’s most consistent policy positions.”
In a hopeful development, the fourth member of the “Squad,” Representative Ayanna Pressley, who had earlier voted along AIPAC lines on BDS, but who also skipped the AIPAC-sponsored trip, issued a strong statement about Netanyahu’s denial of entry to her “dear friends.” Pressley wrote: “When you attack one of us, you attack all of us. Netanyahu is stoking division and punishing dissent just like the occupant of the White House. Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib are my dear friends, my sisters in service and hardworking Americans who have been subject to some of the most vile and vicious attacks simply for being who they are. They are duly elected members of Congress and we cannot allow them to be marginalized, discriminated against, nor targeted because of their gender, their religious beliefs, nor their ethnicity. That is not who we are as a country and we should reevaluate our relationships with any country who seeks to ban Americans and threatens the safety of anyone, including government officials.”
Also arguing for a reevaluation—and almost suggesting a boycott of Israel—is Representative Mark Pocan, who tweeted: “PM Netanyahu must reverse this decision & no member of Congress should visit Israel until all members of Congress are welcome.”
Forty-one Democratic freshmen have just been to Israel, however, and while they may not be boasting about it, because they realize many of their constituents disapprove of the trip, they are also clearly not about to effectively pressure Israel to allow Tlaib and Omar in. And unless the Democratic Party, rather than individual Democratic members of Congress, insists that the two congresswomen should be allowed to visit occupied Palestine, and take action to make it so (issuing a statement loaded with platitudes does not count as “action”), then the Democratic Party is siding with the Republicans, with Trump, with Netanyahu, on a matter of racism, Islamophobia, freedom of political expression, and human rights generally.
Whatever the polls say about the people, meaning the voters, being increasingly critical of Israel, the division is not today, nor has it ever been, between Democratic and Republican politicians. It is between progressives and supporters and enablers of a state that openly embraces apartheid. These supporters and enablers are in both parties.
The stakes are extremely high. The division between progressives and enablers of apartheid is a division that is rending the Democratic Party apart, and threatens to secure Trump a second presidential term, as it alienates more progressives from the Democratic Party. This, as much as US Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar being allowed to travel to Israel, is what we must convey to our representatives.