Opinion

Trump and Netanyahu Just Broke the Special Relationship Between America and Israel

By barring Omar and Tlaib, the wannabe authoritarian tag-team has committed a reckless, racist, contemptible act driven by stunningly short-sighted political calculations - but with fateful repercussions

U.S. Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, denied entry to Israel by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after pressure by U.S. President Donald Trump
Brendan Smialowski/AFP

The historically deep ties that bind the United States and Israel were profoundly damaged Thursday when the government of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu succumbed to pressure from the Trump Administration and barred two members of the United States Congress, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from entering Israel. 

While the special relationship between our two countries has withstood political upheaval, wars and the ebb and flow of geopolitics, it has seldom been challenged as it has been by this reckless and contemptible act of the wannabe authoritarian tag-team of Netanyahu and Trump.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 35Haaretz

>> Read more: Nixing Tlaib and Omar visit, Netanyahu harms Israel to assuage Trump’s ego | Analysis ■ AIPAC, pro-Israel U.S. lawmakers rebuke Netanyahu over Omar-Tlaib ban ■ In the Tlaib-Omar saga, all the politicians are winners | Analysis  

According to Netanyahu, defending his decision, barring the entry of Representatives Omar of Minnesota and Tlaib of Michigan was defensible because in his words, "Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting boycott legislation against Israel in the U.S. Congress."

He went on to say, "The two-member congressional visitation plan shows that there intent is to hurt Israel and to increase its unrest against it." 

Originally, the Israeli government had determined to allow in the two congresswomen. But President Donald Trump pressured Netanyahu not to do so as an extension of his attacks on Omar and Tlaib, colleagues of theirs and, since the beginning of his administration against Muslims and people of color.

Make no mistake about it, while Trump’s motivation was in part political, it was also motivated by the racist animus that drives Trumpism in the U.S. and, as it happens, shapes the ethno-nationalist views of Netanyahu and his extreme-right wing supporters in Israel.

Trump made this clear in a tweet issued at roughly the same time as the official Israeli statement. In the tweet, Trump wrote, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel and all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”  

Trump reiterated the accusation that Tlaib and Omar hate Israel in another tweet a couple of hours later, adding that they are “the face of the Democrat Party.”

Of course, Trump’s tweet was a lie, consistent with the discourse of a man who has been clocked in by the Washington Post lying more than 12,000 times since he took office. It is outrageous lie to suggest that Omar and Tlaib hate all Jewish people. Beyond that Trump achieves new heights in chutzpah when he, an apologist for Nazis and white supremacists who despise the Jews, presents himself as a defender of the Jewish people. 

It is almost as ludicrous as Netanyahu beginning his statement on the decision to block entry of the Congresswomen into the country by declaring that Israel is a “vibrant and free democracy.” It is nothing of the kind if it suppresses criticism and limits the rights of its Palestinian residents and neighbors as it does.  

Indeed, nothing makes the case more clearly than this decision to prohibit entry into the country of two women who have done nothing more than to express views – views known to their constituents when they elected them – that were critical of the current government of Israel. For an allegedly mighty regional power, Netanyahu’s Israel certainly does seem to be afraid of debate.  

Worse though, is the idea that Israel will now be regulating entry into its country of members of the United States Congress based on their political views toward Israel.  Not only is this a dangerously slippery slope, it also marks a breach in the essential ground rules for healthy relations between any two democracies.  

With this decision, Netanyahu compounds past errors and redoubles Israel’s commitment to a perilous course. He is trading an alliance between two nations that has flourished since the very first days of Israel’s existence – indeed, which made that existence possible – for an alliance between Israel and just one U.S. political party. He began this path with his fractious relationship with Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama. But he has now gone further than ever in saying that Israel is allied with the GOP and willing to attack, disrespect and become an active adversary of the Democratic Party.  

This decision by Netanyahu is stunningly short-sighted. The Democrats already control the U.S. House of Representatives. It is very likely they will retake the White House in the 2020 elections. They could retake the Senate. There is a new generation of Democrats who are already skeptical of Netanyahu’s incipient authoritarianism, and the cruelty of his anti-Palestinian policies, and they now have yet another legitimate bone of contention with an Israeli government that now squarely positioned itself as a client state of the U.S. Republican Party.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, May 22, 2017.
Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

By actively working to block Omar and Tlaib from fulfilling their duties as described in Article One of the U.S. Constitution, Trump has very likely committed yet another impeachable offense. While this may seem a remote matter for U.S. lawmakers, it is hardly so if, in fact, Israel’s ties are not with the U.S. but with a president who is in an increasingly precarious position.

Netanyahu, too, of course, is failing in the fulfillment of his sworn responsibilities to the Israeli people by so cavalierly weakening the relationship the country has with an essential benefactor—to say nothing of the democratic values that many Israelis cherish far more dearly than does the head of their government.

The decision has produced an altogether warranted firestorm of criticism including from some in the U.S. that form the critical core of American support for Israel. Even AIPAC, the central element of the so-called “Israel Lobby” in Washington, condemned the move. In their statement, they speak of disagreeing with views of Tlaib and Omar. And of course, that gets to the heart of the matter.  

Democracies thrive on a diversity of views and are driven by differences of opinion. Without them they cannot be representative, nor do they benefit from considering carefully the full range of options before them. When Netanyahu and Trump attack and suppress dissent, they repudiate and place at risk that which has made their countries great.

That they do so when at the same time Netanyahu celebrates Chinese leaders who have imprisoned millions in concentration camps because of their religious beliefs, a Russian leader who is a murderer and kleptocrat or a Turkish head of state who, like the other two, is an enemy of democracy only makes his act more odious and their hypocrisy more transparent.  

That he does it in tandem with an American leader who has done likewise, and has himself promoted racism and operated his own concentration camps on the U.S. border reveals this decision to be based not on strength of principle but rather on fear, and the absence of values.

With some luck, this decision will soon be reversed and an apology issued. If that does not happen, the U.S. Congress would be well-advised to cease all official trips to Israel and consideration of all future assistance to Israel until it is. Only such actions can restore what has been broken in the relationship between our peoples. Absent them, this wound is certain to grow, and the pain associated with it is certain to spread to many, including those who abhor this degeneration of core values as deeply as all should.

David Rothkopf is a foreign policy expert and author, host of the Deep State Radio podcast and CEO of The Rothkopf Group, LLC a media and advisory firm.  His next book, on the national security threat posed by the Trump administration, is due out later this year. Twitter: @djrothkopf