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Islam and the West (22 Aug 2019 NewAgeIslam.Com)



What Israeli and Palestinian Activists Had Hoped to Tell Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib

By Ruth Margalit

August 20, 2019

 









Democratic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar

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On Monday, the Democratic congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, who were recently barred from entering Israel, held a joint press conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. “The decision to ban me and my colleague, the first two Muslim-American women elected to Congress, is nothing less than an attempt by an ally of the United States to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials,” Omar told a roomful of reporters. Tlaib, who wavered over but finally rejected an offer to visit her grandmother in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds, on the condition that Tlaib not promote boycotts, choked back tears as she recalled visiting the West Bank as a child. “I watched as my mother had to go through dehumanizing checkpoints, even though she was a United States citizen and proud American,” she said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to ban the two women was all but dictated by President Trump, who tweeted, last week, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” It was also a public-relations disaster for the Israeli government, as Netanyahu undoubtedly understood. Members of Congress—Republicans as well as Democrats—have come out against the Prime Minister’s decision. In a rare move, aipac, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, expressed disapproval of the ban, stating that, while it disagreed with Omar and Tlaib’s “anti-Israel” positions, “We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”

In Israel, the government’s decision has struck a nerve. Most Israeli analysts believe that, once Trump broadcast his displeasure with the visit, “Netanyahu had no choice but to say amen,” as Arye Mekel, a veteran diplomat, wrote, in Haaretz. Where Israelis are divided, however, is on whether throwing in Israel’s lot with Trump and the Republican Party was prudent to begin with. Trump has been almost too good a benefactor to Netanyahu. For years, the U.S. held out moving its Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognizing the Golan Heights as part of Israel as steps it might take if Israel restarted negotiations with the Palestinians. Trump simply took those steps, no questions asked. Then, with his message about Omar and Tlaib, Trump came asking. Yair Lapid, of the centrist Blue and White party, which hopes to unseat Netanyahu in Israel’s September elections, called the decision to ban their entry a “serious mistake” that “harms our relationship with the Democratic Party.”

The visit that Omar and Tlaib had planned was, undeniably, a challenge to the Israeli government. Their tentative itinerary, titled “Delegation to Palestine,” did not include meetings at the Knesset; its purpose, Omar said, “was to witness firsthand what is happening on the ground in Palestine and hear from stakeholders.” Omar, at the press conference, said that their travel plans had been “nearly identical” to those from an earlier trip taken by members of Congress, presumably a 2016 delegation of five House Democrats, who, as Politico first reported, had also listed “Palestine” as their main destination. But those members had been to Israel in the past, or had otherwise expressed support for the country, and they had met with several lawmakers from the Joint List, an alliance of predominantly Arab parties in the Knesset. Unlike Omar and Tlaib, they were not affiliated with the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, a diffuse and fractious pro-Palestinian effort with plenty of ideological ambiguity. While many of the B.D.S. movement’s supporters are part of the American liberal mainstream, which increasingly seeks to exert pressure on the Israeli government to end its military subjugation of the Palestinian people, the B.D.S. leadership objects to Israel’s existence as a Jewish state. This summer, the Times asked Omar Barghouti, a founder of the movement, whether Jews were entitled to their own state. He answered, in no uncertain terms, “Not in Palestine.”

The controversy over Omar and Tlaib has exposed a growing rift in Israel over how to respond to B.D.S. supporters. A 2017 Israeli law bars admittance to foreign citizens who publicly promote boycotts of the country. The law takes a “moral and principled stance,” Tzipi Hotovely, Israel’s deputy foreign minister, said on Monday, arguing that Israel had little choice but to refuse the congresswomen entry. But, as Israelis who opposed the government’s entry ban quickly pointed out, the law reserves the right of Israel’s interior minister to make exceptions, and had been used only about a dozen times since its passage—rarely against Americans. “A democratic country can’t deny entry to elected officials of a friendly democracy,” Tamar Zandberg, of the leftist Meretz Party, said in a statement.

Yet the organization that arranged Omar and Tlaib’s visit, as well as that of the 2016 delegation, a Palestinian group called Miftah, rightly gave many Israelis pause. In the past, Miftah has praised Palestinian terrorists on its Web site and promoted an anti-Semitic article advancing a blood libel. (The organization later retracted it). But the leader of the group, Hanan Ashrawi, is no fringe actor: she is a seasoned politician who once served as a spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to peace talks with Israel. Were negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians ever to resume, the Israelis would have to reckon with Miftah and groups like it.

Netanyahu, trying to account for having reversed course on Omar and Tlaib’s entry, also pointed to the fact that the congresswomen’s itinerary didn’t include meetings with members of the Israeli parliament. But, although they hadn’t planned on visiting the Knesset, Omar had planned on meeting Aida Touma-Sliman, of the Joint List. I spoke with Touma-Sliman on Sunday, at the time she was supposed to have met with Omar in Jerusalem. She wouldn’t tell me where their meeting was to have been held, only that it wasn’t at the Knesset. (This was also true of the 2016 delegation, which met with Arab lawmakers at a restaurant in an East Jerusalem hotel.) Had they met, Touma-Sliman told me, she would have drawn parallels for Omar between the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians and its own Arab citizens and President Trump’s treatment of immigrants. She considered Netanyahu’s reversal a “clear and direct order from Trump” but claimed that it was merely a “convergence of positions that is very much in line with their over-all attitude toward minorities.” She added, “Netanyahu and Trump are like twins.”

While the Joint List supports boycotting products made in settlements, it does not support the B.D.S. movement. As Touma-Sliman told me, “We believe in exerting pressure from within the political system. We want to fight the occupation—not the citizens of Israel.”

As part of their itinerary in Israel, the congresswomen were supposed to tour the city of Hebron with Breaking the Silence, a nonprofit Israeli organization whose members are former Israel Defense Forces soldiers who now actively oppose the occupation. This would not have been the organization’s first meeting with members of Congress, its executive director, Avner Gvaryahu, told me on Sunday. He refused to name other members with whom he had met, but added that he had also given tours to delegations that had entered the country with aipac. Gvaryahu called the Israeli government’s decision not to admit Omar and Tlaib “unbelievable hypocrisy.” “One of the right-wing government’s main arguments against us has always been that we are using international attention or pressure to air our dirty laundry outside. And now the government is caving to international pressure and changing its policy. And the right is applauding.”

Gvaryahu saw the government’s move to separate Tlaib and Omar’s official visit from Tlaib’s humanitarian visit as indicative of its broader attitude toward Palestinians. “There’s a military concept that we, as former soldiers, know well, which is ‘fabric of life.’ It says that we shouldn’t interfere with the Palestinians’ ‘fabric of life’ as long as it aligns with our perception of reality. In other words, ‘We have no problem with you as a granddaughter, but we can’t tolerate you as an autonomous person with positions and opinions and wishes.’ It’s a classic stance of seeing Palestinians as a nuisance on the way to achieving our broader goal, which is the continuation of the occupation.”

When I asked Gvaryahu about the congresswomen’s vocal support of the movement to boycott Israel, he cited that as the very reason that allowing them to hear voices of criticism within Israel would have been powerful. “Part of what we bring to the table is to show that there are Israeli citizens who are fighting for the future of this place who don’t buy into this lie that says that supporting Israel equates supporting the occupation,” Gvaryahu said. It’s a distinction that he and other Israeli activists wished that Omar and Tlaib could see for themselves.

Original Headline: What Israeli and Palestinian Activists Had Hoped to Tell Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib

Source: The New Yorker

URL:  http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-the-west/ruth-margalit/what-israeli-and-palestinian-activists-had-hoped-to-tell-ilhan-omar-and-rashida-tlaib/d/119531




TOTAL COMMENTS:-   1


  • Support for B.D.S. is even more widespread in Europe than it is in America. B.D.S. is about justice to the Palestinian. It is not against the existence of Israel. Some extremists in B.D.S leadership may disagree, but then there are some extremists in all movements.


    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 8/22/2019 12:37:11 PM



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