Like everything else that happens in the age of Trump, the furor over Israel refusing to allow two members of Congress to visit the country after President Donald Trump tweeted his wish that they be banned, will soon die down. Within a few weeks it will become merely one more entry in the lengthy list of kerfuffles sparked by a presidential tweet.
So though the decision to keep Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from conducting a propaganda tour designed to portray Israel as a cruel oppressor was a mistake, the bad optics of the ban and the unseemly involvement of Trump will soon be overshadowed by some other controversy.
But the long-term impact of this incident has little to do with image and everything to do with the way support for Israel has become a partisan wedge issue. What will be lasting is that, much like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress in 2015 about the dangers of the Iran nuclear deal, his decision to accede to Trump’s wish will mark one more step accelerating the decline in support for Israel on the part of the Democratic Party.
The ban, like the 2017 law that bars entry into Israel for supporters of boycotts of the country, is a foolish gesture. It allows supporters of Israel a way to vent their spleen against an anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Yet democracies like Israel have nothing to hide and little to lose even from trips organized, as theirs was, by Miftah,
a Palestinian group that not only seeks Israel’s destruction but which is guilty — as Omar and Tlaib have been — of spreading hatred of Jews.
Many Democrats think keeping Tlaib and Omar from visiting Israel as an insult to Congress and their party. That also happened with Netanyahu’s speech, whose good sense was outweighed by the fact that many Democrats, and especially minorities, considered it to be an insult to President Barack Obama.
It’s not just that the ban puts wind in the sales of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement and allows Tlaib and Omar to pose as martyrs to anti-Muslim or racial bias. The problem is that it becomes one more reason for Democrats to perceive Israel as an honorary red state allied to Trump in which his opponents have no stake.
It’s easy to blame all this on Trump and Netanyahu, but criticism of Israel has been growing for some time among the Democrats even as Republicans have become lockstep supporters. This trend has been building for the last three decades, as the left wing of the Democratic Party has fallen under the influence of intersectional theories that wrongly assert that the Palestinian war on Israel is linked to the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Others on the left also remain fixated on the false notion that Israeli intransigence rather than the rejectionism of the Palestinians is what has perpetuated the conflict.
Mainstream Democrats resent the idea that Trump’s unprecedented support for the Jewish state and the ability of the “Squad” to position itself as the future of their party means that Israel is now an issue that divides the two parties. Yet the anger over the snub of two of their members has placed even moderate Democrats in the position where they feel obligated to support the duo. In this way supporters of BDS have increasingly become legitimized.
While this doesn’t necessarily mean the abandonment of Israel by Democrats, it does set up a dynamic in which each succeeding controversy and the willingness of Trump to wrap himself in the pro-Israel cause during his re-election program makes it that much easier for the party to become even more alienated from the Jewish state.
Democrats bear part of the blame for this by their willingness to support Obama’s policies on Iran and the peace process as well as their toleration of Omar and Tlaib when they should have ostracized them the moment they began to spew anti-Semitism. Those who rail at Netanyahu without acknowledging the hatred driving Tlaib and Omar’s advocacy are merely reinforcing Trump’s argument that an anti-Zionist clique is already leading the Democrats.
The bad publicity will fade. But the coming presidential campaign and each succeeding controversy over the Jewish state will likely demonstrate that every step it has taken that treats a break with the Democrats as a fait accompli will make it that much harder to rally support for the pro-Israel consensus among those in the party that they have not already lost.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a contributing writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.