US Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar’s Support for BDS Is Now a Lightning Rod for Republicans

Two first-term congresswomen’s support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is shaking up the House. Yesterday, Republicans issued statements condemning Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar for their endorsement of the non-violent campaign for human rights in Palestine. Their statements sound a lot like the hysteria about BDS from Israel’s leadership.

First, Rep. Brian Babin of Texas wrote to committee chairs yesterday urging them not to fund a congressional delegation to Palestine led by Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit because her support for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions is “inconsistent with our national values” and the trip would undermine the special relationship between Israel and the U.S. Babin:

I am writing to express my extreme concern that a newly elected Member of Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, has plans to lead a taxpayer-funded Congressional delegation (CODEL) to Palestine. This action, from an outspoken supporter of the “BDS” Israeli boycott movement and whose personal vitriol led her to publicly brag about calling our President a “mother****er” to her young son, is both ill-conceived and inconsistent with our national values.

The “mere prospect of a CODEL like this threatens” the special relationship between Israel and the U.S., Babin, a 70-year-old dentist whose district includes Houston’s eastern suburbs, said in a statement. 

To signal to our most threatened ally in the region that the United States Congress sanctions an official trip to visit Israel’s nemesis would be an exceedingly dangerous path forward.

Notwithstanding the potential damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship, it seems to be a gross misappropriation of taxpayer dollars to contribute to, however indirectly, a belligerent group and its affiliates that directly oppose the interests of the United States.

Tlaib, a newly-elected Palestinian-American congresswoman from Detroit, told Alex Kane and Lee Fang in December that she will lead a delegation to Palestine at the same time as the AIPAC-sponsored trip to Israel that drags hundreds of congresspeople to one side of the conflict. Those trips typically take place in the summer and are led by the American Israel Education Foundation, an AIPAC spinoff. Tlaib said:

“I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” Tlaib told The Intercept. “I don’t think AIPAC provides a real, fair lens into this issue. It’s one-sided. … [They] have these lavish trips to Israel, but they don’t show the side that I know is real, which is what’s happening to my grandmother and what’s happening to my family there.”

In a related move, Republicans are criticizing the Democratic leadership of the Congress for giving Ilhan Omar of Minneapolis a seat on the Foreign Affairs Committee, because she is also a supporter of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS. Rep. Lee Zeldin:

Instead of the Dems supporting Israel & combatting BDS & anti-Semitism on college campuses & elsewhere, they’re now empowering it.

Ted Deutch, a Florida Democratic congressman, stood up for Omar’s presence on the Foreign Affairs committee. While IfNotNow, the young leftwing Jewish group, hailed the appointment as a sign of things to come.

This is huge news. Having an anti-Occupation voice like ‘s on the House Foreign Affairs Committee will be a welcome change. And it’s further proof that the days of the Democrats’ support-Israel-at-all-costs stance are numbered.

(Though IfNotNow does not have a position on BDS, Omar and Tlaib’s leadership will surely put pressure on the group to support BDS.)

Omar describes her appointment as anti-war nod, and referenced her Somali background.

As someone who has seen firsthand the havoc wreaked by war, I am proud to serve on the committee that is responsible for overseeing our country’s—and this President’s—actions abroad.

This couldn’t come at a more critical time. We need to use the committee’s human rights jurisdiction to hold the President accountable for deaths in detention centers on his watch.

We need to investigate how foreign governments and their lobbyists have violated our laws. And we need to rein in arms sales to human rights abusers like Saudi Arabia. We have our work cutout for us

Dave Weigel avers that Omar’s support for BDS makes the appointment “a big deal that will draw plenty of negative attention.” The Jewish press is characterizing Omar as anti-Israel; and the Republican Jewish Coalition is making hay off the appointment.

“This really cuts against Democrats claiming that she and [Michigan Rep. Rashida] Tlaib are just freshmen, and don’t have any real power in the party. Democratic leadership just chose to put an anti-Semite on the all-important committee rather than take a stand against her abhorrent views,” RJC spokesperson Neil Strauss told JNS. “It is despicable that Democrats are so afraid to upset their far-left base that they no longer are willing to oppose anti-Semitism.”

By the way, Rep. Babin’s statement cited the impact of Tlaib’s trip on Jewish Americans!

Please consider the damage that a yet unexperienced and overly caustic Member of Congress may cause to Israeli relations, or the perceptions of our own Jewish-American citizens.

Republicans must feel that Jewish voters/donors will be in play in the next election cycle.

And Birthright now has company in the Republican Congress. Birthright is the free propaganda trip offered to young American Jews and sponsored by leading American Jewish organizations. It excludes Palestinian voices, and Palestinian destinations outside occupied east Jerusalem. It is funded by among others Haim Saban, a megadonor of the Democratic Party, and Sheldon Adelson, megadonor of the Republicans.

Jeremy Ben-Ami of the liberal Zionist group J Street issued a strong statement in the Forward yesterday (and in email today) decrying the negative obsession with BDS. J Street of course opposes BDS (and doesn’t like anti-BDS legislation because it also target limited boycotts of the settlements, which J Street does not oppose), but he sees the political damage of the focus on BDS by Jewish groups:

[W]e also believe that the exaggerated, overwrought response to BDS from Jewish communal leaders and elected officials is doing far more damage to American Jews and to Israel’s reputation than BDS itself could ever hope to do.

This obsession is harming Jewish institutions and eroding important relationships with other communities, particularly communities of color. It is undermining our core values and distracting from far more important challenges — both in Israel and at home. It is creating an atmosphere of paranoia and censorship.


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Featured image: Photo from November 2018 of then congresswomen-elect Rashida Tlaib (left) of Michigan, and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. (Photo: Twitter/Rashida Tlaib)

Articles by: Philip Weiss

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