Now that Israel has banned entry to Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, will Democrats affirm the right to boycott and hold Israel’s feet to the fire? Five takeaways.
U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. (Leopaltik1242/CC BY-SA 4.0)
1. Don’t let the headlines fool you: neither Ilhan Omar nor Rashida Tlaib had any intention of visiting Israel when they announced their trip to the region. They had hoped, instead, to visit the occupied West Bank, where Tlaib’s family hails from. The fact that Israel is the sole sovereign between the river and the sea and can decide who and what can enter or exit the West Bank is one of the most fundamental aspects of Israel’s 52-year military occupation.
2. One must also take stock of Israel’s priorities when it makes decisions about who is or isn’t welcome. While authoritarian leaders such Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, Hungar’s Viktor Orban and Vladimir Putin are welcomed with open arms, these two Democratic congresswomen are turned into enemies of the state. Why? Because they believe in the right to hold Israel to account, including through boycotts.
3. BDS, one should recall, is a nonviolent and legitimate tool of resistance, especially when considering that Israel has for decades been crushing all other forms of Palestinian resistance, be it violent or nonviolent. Boycotts of and divestments from businesses that profit off human rights violations and war crimes are common in various struggles for social justice.
Meanwhile, even Israel supports the use of international sanctions when it serves its political goals. But only when applied to Israel’s decades’ long occupation and apartheid policies — with the express purpose of promoting freedom, equality, and democracy for Palestinians — are boycotts, divestment and sanctions demonized.
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4. This is where parts of the left, whether in Israel, the U.S., Europe or elsewhere, also share the blame. Large segments among both Democrats and the Zionist left have historically taken part in delegitimizing BDS as a political tool for Palestinian liberation. By isolating BDS supporters, those on the left have paved the way for Netanyahu and Trump to go after Tlaib and Omar.
This can and should be a decisive moment. We are already hearing Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and left-wing and liberal groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace and J Street denouncing Israel for the decision. Even AIPAC is demanding Israel backtrack and allow the congresswomen freedom of movement.
5. As long as these statements are not followed by real action, nothing will change. Israel has become immune to criticism, whether coming from friends or foes. If Democrats don’t turn their statements into full support for the right to boycott and actively try to stop institutional attempts to silence criticism of Israel in the U.S., nothing will change. As long as the international community sits back and the U.S. continues to offer Israel diplomatic immunity and a blank check, Israel will continue to deny Palestinians their basic human and civil rights.
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