The rudeness that the government under Benjamin Netanyahu showed congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar is second only to the damage it has caused U.S.-Israeli relations. The prime minister’s flip-flopping over an entry permit to Israel for the two Democratic lawmakers is clear evidence that Netanyahu is no longer fit to lead the country. There is no delicate way to say this: Netanyahu is endangering Israel’s ties with its key ally.
The folly that pushed Israel into fighting critics of the occupation – rather than the occupation – and led to the so-called anti-BDS law has been shown to be a diplomatic land mine. It became known about a month ago that Omar and Tlaib, who have expressed support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, intended to visit Israel – thus the amendment to the Entry into Israel Law would prevent them from doing so. But in response, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, said Israel would not deny entry to any American lawmaker “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
But on Thursday, after U.S. President Donald Trump made clear he was unhappy with Israel’s decision to let the two lawmakers, whom he despises, into Israel, Netanyahu backtracked and decided not to allow them in. Under Netanyahu, “respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America” manifests itself in one way only: groveling to Trump and granting his every whim, no matter what the consequences for the two countries’ relations and the Diaspora in the United States.
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Subsequent events only made the situation worse. Tlaib sent a letter to Interior Minister Arye Dery requesting entry into the country to see her 90-year-old Palestinian grandmother, and her request was granted “on humanitarian grounds.” When Tlaib realized that her visit would be seen as capitulation to Israeli restrictions, she said she wouldn’t accept those conditions. In response, she was insulted by her president: “The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother. She doesn’t have to see her now!”
The list of people and organizations that condemned Israel’s decision includes senior figures from both parties including Bernie Sanders, Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden, Chuck Schumer, Marco Rubio and Steny Hoyer. A long list of prominent Jewish organizations, among them the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, joined the condemnation – as did even the most pro-Israel group in the United States, AIPAC, which rarely criticizes Israel.
In groveling to Trump, Netanyahu endangers bipartisan American support for Israel, which has always been considered the heart of Israel’s strategy. He has tied his political fate – and Israel’s fate – to Trump’s, burning bridges built by generations of Israeli governments.