March 5, 2019


Ilhan Omar Has a Point (JORDAN WEISSMANN, MARCH 05, 2019, Slate)

In early 2015, as the Obama administration was deep into negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stridently opposed the deal, to address a joint session of Congress. The speech itself, which was intended to convince Congress to scuttle the agreement, turned out to be a dud. Instead of shaming Democrats into opposing the deal, Bibi seemed to unify them in support of it. But the public spectacle of a foreign leader attempting to undermine the American president on U.S. soil at the request of his political adversaries was symbolically striking. Later, polling would show that GOP voters generally felt more warmly about Netanyahu than their actual commander in chief. "Republicans haven't just rejected Obama. They have adopted Netanyahu as their leader," Slate's Will Saletan wrote at the time.

"Does a majority of the Republican Party identify more with Israeli interests than with American interests?" he continued. "When Israel's prime minister speaks on the floor of Congress, do Republicans feel more allegiance to him than to their president? If so, will the feeling subside once Obama leaves office? Or does it signify an enduring rift in the fabric of this country?" [...]

In recent years, Israel's most conservative backers (the vast majority of whom are not Jewish) have taken steps that unfortunately blur the distinction between supporting a country and showing loyalty to it. Welcoming Netanyahu to Washington in 2015 was one example. Boehner made the unprecedented decision to invite the Israeli prime minister without first informing the White House, to ensure that "there was no interference" from the administration. Some suggested the move may have been unconstitutional. It is normal and healthy for Congress and the White House to clash over foreign policy. It is not normal, however, for opposition lawmakers and a foreign leader to publicly work hand in hand to undermine the diplomatic efforts of a sitting U.S. president. This does not mean Republicans were actively trying to undermine America's interests on behalf of Israel; they saw them as one in the same. But given a choice between Netanyahu and Obama, as Saletan wrote, it was pretty clear whom Republicans felt more loyalty to.

The raging fight over the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement--or BDS--is a more recent and clear-cut example where Israel's backers have placed its interests above those of their countrymen. Supporters of BDS--including Omar and her colleague Rep. Rashida Tlaib--are trying to borrow a page from the anti-apartheid playbook by economically isolating Israel so it will be forced to make a peace deal with the Palestinians. Israel's backers see BDS as inherently anti-Semitic, in part because they believe it is an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish state's existence and because other countries aren't facing boycotts for their human rights abuses. (There aren't a lot of campus activists protesting China's decision to throw the Uighurs in re-education camps, for instance.*) It's a complicated issue, but pushed by pro-Israel activists, at least 25 states have come down hard on it by passing laws aimed at barring businesses and individuals from government contract work if they take part in BDS. A speech pathologist is currently suing the state of Texas because she allegedly lost her job after refusing to sign a contract promising not to support a boycott of Israel.

What do you call a law that prioritizes the economic well-being of Israel over the free speech rights of individual Americans? 

Posted by at March 5, 2019 4:58 PM