columnBoycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)

After Tlaib and Omar ban, Democrats let radicals take the steering wheel

Talk of censuring ambassadors over the controversy while ignoring the congresswomen’s anti-Semitic connections is the real scandal.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.
U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman (left) and Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Taking the blame for actions undertaken by their governments is part of every ambassador’s job. So it’s hardly surprising that Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, and David Friedman, the American ambassador to Israel, are being made the scapegoats for the fiasco in which the Jewish state denied entry to two members of the U.S. Congress.

Yet reports that senior leaders of the Democratic Party are considering a formal motion of censure for Dermer and Friedman in the House of Representatives are troubling and not just because such a measure would be deeply unjust to the two men, as well as patently absurd. It’s that influential Democrats, including some who have been firm supporters of Israel, are so intimidated by Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and other left-wing members and sympathizers of the so-called “Squad,” that they are willing to ignore the bad faith and anti-Semitism of these radicals.

The fact that House Democrats feel obliged to legitimize the efforts of the two BDS-supporting congresswomen rather than simply expressing dismay about the decision marks another step down the road towards a breach between their party and Israel.

By citing the 2017 law passed by the Knesset to ban the entry of foreign advocates of BDS, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—seemingly acting at the prompting of a tweet from President Donald Trump—demonstrated that the only point of the legislation was to allow Israelis and supporters of Israel the opportunity to vent their spleen at their enemies, regardless of the consequences. After several months of watching Tlaib and Omar became heroines for the left wing of their party and its media cheering section, Israel told them off. That’s something that many supporters of Israel thoroughly enjoyed as social media revealed in the days following the decision. However, democracies like Israel have nothing to fear from speech, no matter how vicious.

As for Dermer and Friedman, they were merely carrying out the policies of the democratically elected governments that they are pledged to serve. We may have to wait until memoirs are written to get to the bottom of the decision-making process; it may be that Dermer’s initial promise that the tour could go forward demonstrates that his wise counsel to let it occur was overwhelmed by Trump’s interest in exacerbating tensions between the Democrats and Israel.

We are now beyond the point where rehashing the debate over the decision is of any utility. As the rumblings from House Democrats demonstrate, crisis management is the only thing friends of Israel should be thinking about.

Some blowback for Israel was an inevitable consequence of the ban. Indeed, that is the most logical explanation for Trump’s advocacy for a move that would widen the breach between Democrats and the Jewish state since he not unreasonably thinks that the more the Democrats embrace “The Squad,” the better his chances of re-election.

The question now is whether Democratic moderates will allow the party’s leftist wing to take the steering wheel—and turn what should be only a minor and momentary kerfuffle into a major issue.

If longtime incumbents from New York, like Reps. Eliot Engel and Nita Lowey—who are, respectively, chairs of the powerful House Foreign Affairs and Appropriations Committees—are allowing their names to be mentioned in reports about retaliation against Israel, it’s because they fear retribution from their party’s activist base. Both are being targeted for primary challenges next year by left-wingers hoping to repeat the success that “Squad” leader Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had against Joe Crowley, another House Democratic leader. While worries about their ability to hold onto their seats are understandable, accepting the dubious assertion that a snub of two members whose main claim to fame is anti-Israel activism that has crossed over into open anti-Semitism is an outrage is far more scandalous than the foolish decision that Trump urged on Netanyahu.

The mere fact that the tour Tlaib and Omar were planning was organized by Miftah, a Palestinian group led by Hanan Ashrawi that is guilty of numerous acts of open anti-Semitic hate, is far more worthy of investigation and censure than anything Dermer and Friedman did or didn’t do. Neither Miftah’s involvement nor the agenda for the trip justified its cancellation, nor would it have caused more harm to Israel than the ban. But the willingness of the media and the Democrats to ignore Tlaib and Omar’s involvement with a group whose anti-Semitism is morally equivalent to that of neo-Nazis is a major aspect of the story that shouldn’t be ignored. At the same time, Democrats have screamed bloody murder about connections between a GOP outlier like Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who was eventually and rightly punished by his party, which were less damning that what Tlaib and Omar have done. Those who have sought to connect dots between the president and hate groups he has repeatedly condemned are in no position to ignore direct evidence of Tlaib and Omar’s hate-mongering.

Whatever you may think about the wisdom of the ban, the reaction to it from Democrats is out of all proportion to the offense given or the facts about the stars of this tawdry exercise in anti-Israel agitation.

Indeed, by attempting to censure the ambassadors—and treating the Tlaib-Omar campaign against Israel as credible or legitimate—the Democrats are justifying the claim of some on the right that ties between their party and Israel are already so tenuous that no effort to repair them is worth the effort. That is why it’s vital that Democrats who care about the Jewish state should resist pressure to turn this incident into a genuine crisis and instead refocus their efforts on demonstrating that “The Squad” doesn’t speak for their party on Israel or any other issue.

Doing so will not only be the right thing to do, but will do more to help them win in 2020 than letting anti-Semites like Tlaib and Omar set the agenda for them.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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