Trump would rather rend the fabric of the American polity on an issue like Israel than mend it. Support for Israel is bipartisan in America today – and that is the true key to Israel’s security. It will be so tomorrow – no matter how much Trump tries to wedge America’s Jews.
I was mistaken – too generous – because what Trump did late last week was unimaginable – until he acted out his unprecedented, fantastical political ploy: pressure Prime Minister Netanyahu to deny entry into Israel of two Democratic Members of Congress who hold strong anti-Israel views, and provoke a fight between the Democrats in Congress not only with Trump but also with the government of Israel.
Trump won his tactical victory but deeply ruptured the ties between Congress and Jerusalem. Those ties are indispensable to Israel’s security.
The damage and costs inflicted will not begin to be repaired until both men are out of office.
Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold unacceptable views on Israel by virtue of their support for the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions campaign (BDS) against Israel; it is a campaign that fundamentally challenges the legitimacy of the Jewish State. Their rhetoric on Israel is harsh and confrontational. They are well outside the mainstream of overall American views towards Israel and within the Democratic Party. Indeed, late last month the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly, 398-17, to condemn the BDS campaign.
Omar and Tlaib are, however, elected Members of Congress; they have been sent by their voters to serve in Congress. They are American citizens and cannot be “sent home” to the countries of their heritage, as Trump has demanded.
Every dollar of foreign aid that goes to Israel is appropriated by Congress. Every weapon sold to Israel is done so pursuant to military assistance programs enacted into law by Congress.
It is an inalienable part of their responsibilities as Members of Congress to oversee the work of the Executive Branch, and how the laws and programs under them are implemented. They have every right – indeed, every responsibility – to satisfy themselves on policy issues under the jurisdiction of Congress.
This is why both Republican and Democratic Representatives and Senators went out of their way, after Trump tweeted his intent that Omar and Tlaib be denied entry to Israel because they “hate” Israel and Jewish people, to urge Netanyahu not to accede to Trump’s request.
The result is that the voices of these two Members of Congress are louder now than they have ever been and are being heard more today than they have ever been heard before.
Was there really nothing that the host government could show these two women about the virtues of Israel and what it is doing in the West Bank, and why? Is Israel so weak that it cannot absorb, and respond to and manage, even the most bitter attacks of two critics?
Just when many Washington observers had concluded that there were no more basic norms of governance for Trump to violate, he was able to undercut, with a tweet, a norm of governance fundamental to the power of Congress under Article I of the Constitution of the United States.
Imagine the uproar if a Democratic Senator hostile to Saudi Arabia because of the murder of Khashoggi had been denied entry to the Kingdom after Trump had tweeted on the issue to MBS. Imagine.
That’s exactly what happened last week.
Exceptional damage has been done in the halls of Congress to the unbreakable alliance between the United States and Israel: damage deliberately inflicted by those who profess to be Israel’s strongest defenders. All for Trump, with Netanyahu’s endorsement, to make a political, partisan point for 2020 in Washington.