Dems and Jewish Groups Pick Wrong Side on Omar-Tlaib

If Democrats aren't careful, their anti-Israel problem will turn into an anti-Semitic problem.

Reps. Ilhan Omar (D., Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D., Mich.) / Getty Images
August 17, 2019

Should the Netanyahu government have barred "Squad" members and BDS advocates Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country? Chattering classes in both countries quickly took sides. Surprising is how quickly major American Jewish organizations—those one would most expect to defend Israel—jumped to condemn its decision, arguing that it should have rolled out the red carpet for the two congresswomen. While their argument is that keeping the women out harms the Jewish State, it is their position that damages Israel and strengthens its enemies.

"A good-faith visit to Israel is the best way to be exposed to its democracy, complexities, and range of views. And so while we absolutely disagree with the pro-BDS positions of Reps. @IlhanMN & @RashidaTlaib, keeping them out is counterproductive," tweeted ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt on Thursday, echoing a nearly identical tweet sent out less than half an hour earlier by AIPAC, which declared "every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand."

The problem is that Omar and Tlaib weren’t visiting Israel. They were visiting a fictitious country called "Palestine," which Arabs hope will replace Israel. Their itinerary, titled "U.S. Congressional Delegation to Palestine," was loaded with meet-and-greets with Palestinian Authority officials. The only Israel representative was the group B’Tselem—a radical organization that last made headlines condemning Israel at the U.N. Security Council. Israel’s ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer described the itinerary as a "BDS circus."

Omar and Tlaib could have come as part of the large Democratic congressional delegation that visited Israel last week. Instead, they came separately under a trip sponsored by Mifteh, run by leading Palestinian Authority member Hanan Ashrawi. As David French points out in National Review, Mifteh published a classic medieval blood libel that Jews use the blood of Christians at Passover and an American neo-Nazi treatise attacking "Jew-controlled entertainment media." To French, the scandal is that members of the American government were partnering with vicious anti-Semites on their own anti-Israel propaganda tour.

Any doubt of Omar and Tlaib’s bad faith dissipated with Tlaib’s reaction after Israel backtracked. Apparently hoping to put Israel in an even worse light, Tlaib sent a letter to Israel’s interior minister asking to be allowed to visit her grandmother, in her 90s, because "this might be my last opportunity to see her." When Minister Aryeh Deri unexpectedly granted her request, asking only that she not engage in BDS activities while in Israel, Tlaib tweeted, "I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in—fighting against racism, oppression and injustice." In other words she believes Israel represents all these things—racism, oppression, and injustice. How can American Jewish organizations possibly spin this into a "good-faith visit to Israel"?

American Jewish groups who are now criticizing Israel make another argument—that barring the congresswomen’s entry alienates half of Congress, endangering decades of bipartisan support for Israel.

The argument, on the face of it, sounds credible, particularly as the Democrats did rally around Omar and Tlaib, including those with unquestionable pro-Israel bona fides, like Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who said Israel’s decision would strengthen "those who seek to create a wedge between our two countries."

The problem with this thinking is that it puts the cart before the horse. Israel isn’t driving a wedge between itself and Democrats. Democrats are driving a wedge between themselves and Israel. It’s because of the Democrats’ radicalized base, of which the leadership is terrified.

It’s a problem that predates Omar and Tlaib, though they have become its most prominent face. The Democrats have an anti-Israel problem. If the party is not careful, it will turn into an anti-Semitic problem similar to that of England’s Labour Party.

Who can forget the embarrassing vote to reinstate language recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital at the 2012 Democratic National Convention? Convention chairman Antonio Villaraigosa had to call a voice vote three times before declaring it for the "Ayes." Anyone who heard the catcalls knows it was at best a tie, nowhere near the two-thirds votes required to make the change.

Some congressional Democrats are trying to fight the anti-Israel forces typified by Omar and Tlaib. The 41 Democrats who visited Israel this month is an example. Democrats on July 23 overwhelmingly supported a resolution which said BDS "promotes principles of collective guilt, mass punishment and group isolation, which are destructive of prospects for progress towards peace."

But Democrats have been afraid to take Omar and Tlaib head-on. Not only are they scared of their base, they’re fearful of antagonizing American Muslims, a voting bloc they have begun to woo. That is why their effort in May to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism, again sparked in reaction to Omar, was rewritten and watered down so as to be meaningless.

If American-Jewish organizations wish to help Israel, they’d encourage Democrats to go further in their efforts to push back against Omar-Tlaib. AIPAC, the ADL, the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and all the others who see their job as defending Jewish interests should be encouraging Democrats to isolate this hateful duo and cut them off from the rest of the party.

Instead, they’ve strengthened Omar and Tlaib by giving moral backing to the position that these two should have been admitted to Israel regardless of their agenda, that it was Israel that was in the wrong. But Israel was right. It acted sensibly, stopping a propaganda-fest from being carried out on its home turf.

The House vote condemning BDS was 398-to-17. Five voted present. Two of the nays were Omar and Tlaib. This is a fight U.S. Jewish groups can win. Once they stop putting the ball in their own net.