Banning Omar and Tlaib will greatly damage American-Israeli relations

Fewer decisions could be more damaging to relations between the United States and Israel than the one managed by President Trump and the Israeli government to bar two members of Congress from visiting the state of Israel. I say this not as a critic of Israel, but as one who loves the country. As a member of Congress, I had a 100 percent voting record on Israel. As a member of the House Democratic leadership, I opposed the Iran deal of President Obama. As a member of the House Appropriations Committee, I helped lead efforts to fund the critical defense needs of Israel.

Let me be clear, I strongly and unequivocally oppose the views stated by Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan on Israel. They are simply wrong, which is why I have already condemned them publicly. However, it is my connection to Israel that leads me to also strongly condemn a decision that will hurt Israel.

First, I have seen directly how the positions on Israel of members of Congress have been shaped and reshaped simply by going there. Walking through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum, standing at a point in Jaffa where on a clear day you can see from one end of the country to the other and come to a new understanding of the importance of strategic depth, visiting a hospital near the border of Syria where Israeli physicians provided lifesaving medical attention to Syrian refugees, and attending sessions of the Knesset where elected Arab members have the same rights as any other member. Being on the ground in Israel is vital to promoting understanding. Denying people from stepping on that ground only serves to fortify their worst perceptions of the country.

Second, contrary to the narrative that support for Israel among the Democratic members of Congress has eroded, it is actually stronger now with the addition of a multitude of freshmen who strongly support the bilateral relationship. There is, however, a long term problem as younger Democratic activists drift away from supporting Israel. By denying two Democratic lawmakers entry to the country, both Trump and the Israeli government have only raised antagonism and opposition and pushed that generation further away. Trump has not only managed to use Israel as a wedge within the American electorate today, he is building a longer lasting wedge between the United States and Israel in the future.

Third, members of Congress have the right to travel, even when we or others around the world may find their views abhorrent. For a sitting president to publicly urge another country to ban democratically elected members of Congress is a further blow to the separation of powers and yet another insult to the democratic process of the United States.

Finally, if the Israeli government decides to ban visits by American politicians because of disagreeable views, should it not also ban American politicians who, for example, found good things to say about neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville? Tlaib and Omar are certainly wrong when it comes to Israel. But by preventing them from coming to the country, Israel only empowers their positions and emboldens its critics.

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.

Tags Congress Donald Trump Ilhan Omar Israel Politics Rashida Tlaib Steve Israel

The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.

More International News

See All
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video