Join us in court and defend the right to boycott in Olympia, Washington

Center for Constitutional Rights, October 21, 2019

Join us in court tomorrow in Olympia, Washington, as Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood argues in our case Davis v. Cox defending former volunteer board members of the Olympia Food Co-op in their decision to boycott Israeli products in line with the co-op’s mission and long history of encouraging social justice.

Courts dismissed the lawsuit against our clients in 2012, 2014, and 2018, yet the plaintiffs have continued to pursue the case in an attempt to chill free speech and punish support for Palestinian human rights. We will continue to argue that the lawsuit brought against our clients is illegal and should be dismissed.

Learn more on our case page.

Revealed: rightwing push to ban criticism of Israel on US campuses

Documents seen by Guardian show fresh attack on university debate under the guise of prohibiting antisemitism


Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017. First amendment advocates see the potential spread of such laws as a major threat to free speech on campuses. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

Ed Pilkington, The Guardian US, 17 Oct 2019

Rightwing activists are attempting to spread new laws across Republican-controlled states that would ban criticism on public university campuses of Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory.

Pro-Israel and conservative lobbyists are encouraging state lawmakers to outlaw antisemitism in public education, from kindergarten through to graduate universities. But the proposed definition of antisemitism is so wide that, in addition to standard protections against hate speech towards Jews, it would also prohibit debate about the human rights violations of the Israeli government.

First amendment advocates see the potential spread of such laws as a major threat to free speech on campuses.

Among the activities that would be prohibited by the new laws are human rights investigations focusing specifically on Israel. Also banned would be any speech “demonizing Israel by … blaming Israel for all inter-religious or political tensions” or “delegitimizing Israel by … questioning Israel’s right to exist”.

The push began at a conference in August held by the American Legislative Exchange Council, Alec, a conservative network which has a long history of propagating rightwing policies at state level through model bills. The group, dubbed a “bill mill”, has spearheaded attacks on trade unions, opposition to Obamacare, voter suppression measures and legislation blocking efforts to address the climate crisis.

The meeting at Alec is disclosed in emails obtained under a freedom of information request by David Armiak, research director for the watchdog Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) and shared with the Guardian. They show that several Republican state lawmakers joined pro-Israeli lobbyists in Austin, Texas, to discuss disseminating new restrictions on speech relating to Israel on campuses across the heartlands.

The private meeting was led by Randy Fine, a Republican from Florida who was instrumental in passing in May the first state law outlawing antisemitism in public education. A week later he emailed fellow participants under the subject line: Anti-Semitism Bill Discussed at Alec.

Fine has faced controversy in the past over his aggressive opposition to public debate about Israel. Earlier this year he called a local Jewish constituent a “Judenrat” because the man had attended a forum titled: Palestine/Israel, Opening the Dialogue.

The term “Judenrat” was the name for Nazi-mandated councils in Jewish ghettos during the second world war and has been used to refer to Jews who collaborated with the Nazis.

Also attending the meeting at Alec were lawmakers from South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas, Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as representatives of two pro-Israel lobbying groups. “It was great to see you at the Alec conference last week in Austin and to briefly share the work we did in passing HB 741, the strongest antisemitism bill ever passed in the United States,” Fine wrote to them.


The former governor of Florida Jeb Bush speaks at the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2013. (M. Spencer Green/Associated Press)

The Florida Republican encouraged peers in other state assemblies to work with one of the lobbying groups, the Israeli-American Coalition for Action, which he said had been “instrumental in providing outside support as I pushed the bill”. In a separate email to the group, IAC for Action’s Joseph Sabag said that he and his legal team had taken Fine’s Florida bill and “refined it into a model that can be brought elsewhere. I urge you to contact me or Rep Alan Clemmons and take advantage of our policy support if you are considering filing a bill.”

Clemmons is Alec’s national chairman. A Republican representative from South Carolina, he introduced a similar antisemitism definition into a budget bill in his state in 2018.

Sabag told the Guardian that it would be incorrect to suggest that IAC for Action was encouraging state lawmakers to adopt the definition. He said his organization “provides legal analysis and policy resources in response to requests from legislators who wish to draw upon our subject matter expertise. Antisemitism is a hot issue right now, so of course there are many who are naturally interested.”

He also denied that Alec was involved in the legislative push. “No such bills have been presented to them for model consideration, and they’ve held no policy discussions on the matter or taken any position.”

The emails seen by the Guardian, he said, “emerged out of an after-hours private gathering of friends and colleagues, not an Alec function and Alec held no such forum or discussion at its conference”.

The Guardian asked Alec to comment, but received no reply.

Continue reading

Palestinians Protest Facebook ‘Bias Favoring Israel’

New campaign exposes double-standard of social media giant in dealing with Israeli and Palestinian incitement

Dima Abumaria, The Media Line, 10/07/2019

Journalists, activists launch campaign against alleged violations of user freedoms by social media platform

A Palestinian social media campaign rejecting what it calls “violations” of Facebook rules by censoring Palestinian content has been launched by Palestinian journalists and activists in cooperation with Sada Social Center, which monitors social media violations against Palestinian content.

The campaign is calling on users to tweet using the hashtag #FBblockspalestine by Wednesday night at 8 p.m. to highlight “the threat posed by Facebook against Palestinian content, and to make it public, as well as reveal the double-standard policy of Facebook management in dealing with Israeli and Palestinian incitement on its site.”

“Twitter is the first in a series of actions we will take,” Eyad Rifai, head of Sada Social Center, told The Media Line. “Next week, we will meet with a group of institutions and potential partners to discuss ways to jointly counter the attack on Palestinian content. At a second stage, we will hold field protests as well.”

Rifai said the campaign aims to “protect the digital rights of the Palestinian people so they can practice their right of absolute freedom of speech via cyberspace, although without the involvement of Facebook management that limits their freedoms while allowing Israeli users to incite against Arabs as well as call to kill them.”

He continued by saying that “Facebook has developed an algorithm that automatically deletes users’ posts and accounts if they include names of Palestinian political parties, for example ‘Hamas,’ ‘Jihad,’ ‘Popular Front,’ ‘Qassam,’ ‘Saraya’ and ‘Islamic Jihad,’ or names of martyrs, leaders and others without looking at the context in which they were posted, which sets a historic precedent for infringement on media freedom.”

Rifai pointed out that Palestinian journalists and media people are “unable to practice their journalistic work as a result of Facebook’s unfair policy, which doesn’t pay attention to professional work standards. This puts the Palestinian narrative on Facebook in real danger.”

He said the campaign had sent a letter to the Middle East management of Facebook to condemn the policy, adding that he “isn’t very optimistic” to receive a positive response.

“We will receive the same justification, which isn’t new anymore, that Facebook is an American company committed to renouncing terrorism as part of an agreement with the American government. The algorithm is simply unfair and doesn’t take into account the specificity of the Palestinian cause,” Rifai said.

Dahoud Abu Dalfeh, a Gaza-based journalist who said his Facebook account had been deleted in September for “using content that is against Facebook policy,” told The Media Line that “Facebook management sees using Palestinian symbols, names or political parties as incitement to violence, regardless of the nature of the work of the publisher.”

He insists he was not trying to provoke anyone.

“I was just doing my job when I lost my account,” he explained.

“Even when we cover news regarding Lebanon, we can’t use terms concerning Hizbullah or [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah,” he went on. “A lot of times we are not allowed to object or report the deletion of an account. When we try, we receive a message that an unknown error has occurred, which creates another issue.”

Abu Dalfeh said Facebook management “does not handle the escalating Israeli incitement against Palestinians the same way or use similar algorithms, which makes it biased toward Israel.”

In August, the Sada Center documented more than 17 violations against Palestinian content on social media, most of them on Facebook, “which created a need for the center and other activists to actively protest Facebook managerial procedures rather than just continue to just monitor its violations.”

Ali Bikhat, a Palestinian social media analyst and head of the Social Media Club at The Palestinian Institute for Communication and Development, claimed to The Media Line that “there has been coordination between Israeli authorities and the management of Facebook. On the Palestinian side, there isn’t any diplomatic effort to reach agreement with site management to reduce its policy or end it.”

For this reason, he advocates for a more proactive approach.

Continue reading

ESPN Host Panicked by Israel-Palestine Comment

Literally the only thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on nowadays is that it’s bad to kowtow to China, but it’s good to capitulate to Israel.

Billy Haisley, Deadspin, 10/8/19

At the tail end of First Take’s extended discussion today about the ongoing debacle between the NBA and China, Stephen A. Smith had one final take he wanted to get off. He began auspiciously, if not with his trademark eloquence: “I would remind you that, throughout this world, one of the things that exists is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” Shocking no one, host Molly Qerim just about broke her neck trying to rush to the commercial break.

I’m pretty sure Max Kellerman wasn’t the only one on set making that face.

The funny thing is, Stephen A. was actually making a good point—just not for the reasons he thought. It is true that the vast majority of public figures are exceedingly wary of wading into the Israel-Palestine conflict out of fear of offending the sensibilities of those who refuse to countenance any criticism of Israel, knowing the swift and forceful backlash headed their way if they do. For that reason, it is more or less unchallenged that Israel-Palestine is “too complicated” and “too risky” for the savvily self-interested to opine about. No one wants to get Ilhan Omar’d.

The difference between Israel-Palestine and China-Hong Kong, then, is only that Israel has been more successful in branding its conflict with those it oppresses as genuinely above reproach than China has thus far been with its dealings with Hong Kong. In fact, when comparing the American media coverage of and political response to Israel-Palestine with China-Hong Kong, the main difference is that all the powerful political forces in the U.S. are united in their alignment in support of Israel and in opposition to China. Literally the only thing Democrats and Republicans can agree on nowadays is that it’s bad to kowtow to China, but it’s good to capitulate to Israel.

Stephen A.’s only problem is that he takes exactly the wrong lesson from this. The point he seems to be making isn’t that Israel-Palestine’s presence in political no man’s land is bad and only serves to protect Israel from the criticism it deserves, but instead the opposite, that China-Hong Kong should be placed right alongside Israel-Palestine as terrible things no one in their right mind should want to call out publicly. This fits well with his prior statements on the matter, where he called Daryl Morey “childish” for standing up for a cause. To Stephen A., no value is as sacred or adult as shutting up when there’s money to be had.

He got into Harvard. And now he finally got into the United States.


Ismail Ajjawi, a Harvard freshman who said he was was denied U.S. entry because of his friends’ social media postings, arrived in Boston in time for the start of classes. He is pictured in his home near the El Buss refugee camp in Lebanon. (United Nations Relief and Works Agency)

JAWEED KALEEM, Los Angeles Times, SEP. 3, 2019

A Palestinian student who flew to Boston last month to attend Harvard but was a denied entry to the United States has been allowed into the country in time for the start of classes this week, the university said.

Ismail Ajjawi, 17, was at the center of an uproar involving top Harvard officials, immigrant advocates, international student organizations and thousands of student petitioners after the Harvard Crimson newspaper reported that immigration officials held him on Aug. 23 at Logan International Airport while combing through his social media accounts before canceling his visa.

The incident underscored concerns at Harvard and other universities over the ability of international students and scholars to enter the country as the Trump administration curtails legal immigration.

In a welcome letter Tuesday to students, Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow highlighted immigration barriers for students.

“Since May, the obstacles facing individuals ensnared in the nation’s visa and immigration process have only grown,” he wrote. “Various international students and scholars eager to establish lives here on our campus find themselves the subject of scrutiny and suspicion in the name of national security, and they are reconsidering the value of joining our community in the face of disruptions and delays.”

Ajjawi was a top student in Lebanon, where lived as a refugee outside the southern city of Tyre and attended United Nations schools. He received a scholarship from an international nonprofit to attend Harvard, where he planned to study physical and chemical biology en route to becoming a surgeon.

He was allowed into to the U.S. on Monday after he “overcamve all grounds of inadmissibility,” a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection said in a statement.

The spokesman did not answer a question about what had changed. Previously, immigration officials had said that Ajjawi “was deemed inadmissible to the United States based on information discovered during the CBP inspection.”

His family released a statement through its attorney, describing his experience as “difficult and anxiety-filled.”

“We truly appreciate the efforts of so many individuals and officials in Lebanon, Washington, Massachusetts and at Harvard that have made it possible for our son Ismail Ajjawi to begin his studies,” it said.

He arrived on campus just in time for his class photo, said the attorney, Albert Mokhiber.

Theodore Kattouf, president of Amideast, the nonprofit that awarded Ajjawi his scholarship, released a statement saying that he was “pleased that Ismail’s Harvard dream will come true after all.”

“Ismail is a bright young man whose hard work, intelligence and drive enabled him to overcome the challenges that Palestinian refugee youth continue to face in order to earn a scholarship,” it said.

Ajjawi did not reply to Facebook messages seeking comment.

In an interview with Al Araby TV that aired as he first flew to the U.S. last month, he talked about his interest in science and medicine. “There’s room for discoveries in this field,” he said, adding that “excellence requires work and effort too. I always had this goal. I managed my time, studied everything, to get this result.”

In the account published by the Crimson last month, Ajjawi said that immigration authorities told him he could not enter the country because friends on social media were critical of the U.S.

Continue reading

Harvard freshman denied entry at Logan Airport by immigration officials

Posts by friends on social media were critical of the United States

Deirdre Fernandes, Boston Globe, August 27, 2019

A 17-year-old Palestinian student en route to Harvard University to begin his freshman year was denied entry to the United States at Logan Airport last weekend, heightening fears that the Trump administration’s restrictive immigration policy is making it harder for international students to come to study.

The student, Ismail Ajjawi, lives in Lebanon and had a valid visa to study in the United States, but upon his arrival at Logan he was questioned by immigration officials and then sent on a flight back home, according to officials with Amideast, an international education nonprofit that administers the Hope Fund scholarship
the student received to help him attend Harvard.

Ajjawi was reportedly denied entry over political posts his friends made on social media that were critical of the United States.

The case has drawn anger and concern about the increased scrutiny facing the thousands of international students who flood US campuses, particularly those in the Boston area, every fall.

“It’s so counterproductive to American interests to close the doors to kids like this,” said Geraldine Brooks, the novelist, who was involved with the Hope Fund in its earliest days, nearly 20 years ago.

The more than a dozen freshmen who have come through the Hope Fund annually have studied through the shelling of their neighborhoods and had their schooling disrupted for long stretches, but they see a US degree as a path forward. One went to work for NASA, others have become engineers and educators, and one is a Rhodes Scholar, Brooks said.

“This is an indicator of a serious and dark problem happening unseen in back rooms of our airports,” Brooks said. Ajjawi is fortunate to be going to Harvard, an institution that has the resources and network to help him try and resolve the problem, she said.

“I’m completely outraged and so concerned about the kids who aren’t trying to get to clout-rich institutions,” Brooks said.

PEN America, a nonprofit that advocates for free expression issues, called the decision to send Ajjawi back “perverse.”

“The idea that Ajjawi should be prevented from taking his place at Harvard because of his own political speech would be alarming; that he should be denied this opportunity based on the speech of others is downright lawless,” Summer Lopez, senior director of the organization, said in a statement.

Officials with the Department of Homeland Security declined to comment on the specifics of the case, but said the student was deemed inadmissible and his visa was canceled.

US Customs and Border Protection has several layers of review and approval before officials deny someone admission into the country, said Michael McCarthy, a spokesman for the agency.

“CBP is responsible for ensuring the safety and admissibility of the goods and people entering the United States,” he said in a statement.

Ajjawi, who grew up in a refugee camp, is one of more than a dozen freshmen participating in the Hope Fund. These Palestinian students attend US institutions such as Stanford University and Smith College.

Ted Kattouf, a former US ambassador and the president of Amideast, declined to comment about Ajjawi’s case.

In a letter to supporters on Saturday, Kattouf wrote, “Amideast will exert best efforts to keep Ismail’s dream alive.”

Ajjawi’s attorney did not return calls for comment.

Ajjawi told the Crimson, Harvard’s student newspaper, which first reported the case, that he was questioned for several hours at the airport before he was sent back.

Continue reading

He Threatened Us, Now He Goes to Jail

Dr. James J. Zogby, August 17, 2019

Back in May, a jury found Patrick Syring, a former State Department official, guilty of 14 counts of making threats against my life and my staff at the Arab American Institute. This week, a federal judge sentenced Syring to five years in prison to be followed by three years of court-ordered probation. 

This was Syring’s second conviction. He had been found guilty of the same crimes against me and my staff in 2008 and served over a year in prison. After his release and a period of probation, he began once again to stalk, harass, and threaten me and my office. He accused me of horrible crimes – organizing dozens of terrorist attacks around the world. He referred to me as a “genocidal, anti-Semitic, homophobic murderer,” in addition to threatening me with death by saying that “The only good Arab is a dead Arab” and America would only be free of terror when it was “cleansed of James Zogby” and “all Arab Americans.” 

Although Syring’s threats were communicated directly to me, he made a practice of copying other members of my staff and even our young interns. In all, we received over 700 such emails from Syring and because of their frequency and the hate-filled threats they contained, they were a cause of real concern. 

Each day, when I entered my office I could tell on the faces of my staff and interns whether or not Syring had struck again. Especially after a terrorist attack either in the US or internationally, his language became so extreme that we had to call local police for protection and report the threats to the FBI. The support they provided us was so appreciated. For a time, two agents accompanied me to public events. The Department of Homeland Security gave us an assessment of measures we should take to make our building and office more secure. And because we knew who had sent the threats, they often visited Syring to warn him that there would be consequences to his behavior. 

His obsession with me and his hatred of Arab Americans was so great, that he continued until the Department of Justice finally convened a Grand Jury and indicted him for his crimes. Nothing, however, stopped him. 

It was this obsession and hatred that concerned us most precisely because we never knew when he might act on his threats of violence. Our concern was heightened by his apparent willingness to continue despite having already been punished for the same crime and having been repeatedly warned by law enforcement to stop what he was doing.   

So now the sentence has been given. Syring will be in a federal prison until 2024. At that time, he will begin three years in court-ordered probation, undergoing psychiatric evaluation, and be required to avoid any contact or communication with me or any current of former staff member of the Institute. 
 
It gives me no pleasure to see this man going to jail for a long period, but it does provide us all with a sense of enormous relief. I’ve been threatened before. My wife, my children, and I have received death threats for the past 50 years – owing to my advocacy for Palestinian rights and the rights of the Arab American community. My office was fire-bombed and an Arab American colleague, whom I hired, was murdered. Two individuals who, in the past, made death threats against me and my children were convicted and sentenced to prison terms. But this case was different. 

In the first place, Syring had tormented us for over a decade. He literally became a part of our daily lives. My wife had his picture handy and if a car was parked outside of our house, she would check to see if he was the driver. My staff were instructed to alter their behaviors – so as not to take the same route to and from the office. And some even had to receive counseling. It was especially troubling to see the reactions of young interns when they would be the unlucky recipients of a Syring email. They had come to have a Washington work experience, not to be threatened or have their ethnicity maligned.  

This is also different because for more than two decades Syring had been a State Department official who had served two tours in Lebanon. During the 2008 proceedings, I learned that on more than one occasion he had been rebuked by the DOS for displays of anti-Arab behavior. I was shocked that instead of taking action they simply moved him to another posting. They even allowed him to remain in the federal service after he was indicted for his first threats against me – some of which he made from his State Department phone or his State Department computer. At that time, I asked DOS officials, “What if a foreign service officer had threatened a Jewish American leader and made repeated anti-Semitic comments against him and called for genocide against the Jewish community – what would the reaction have been?”

That troubled me then and still troubles me now. And while there has been some press coverage of the case, I am compelled to ask, “What kind of press treatment would have been given if a former government official delivered death threats to a Jewish American leader accompanied by the statement ‘the only good Jew is a dead Jew?'”  Why are Arab Americans seen in a lesser light? And why are threats against us less worthy of evoking outrage?

With Syring going to jail for the next five years, my staff and I feel a degree of relief. It won’t give us back the years we lived in fear, but we know that at least for the foreseeable future our daily lives won’t be turned upside down by cruel death threats from this man. We are thankful for that. We are also thankful for the strong support and protection we were given by the Civil Rights attorneys at the DOJ and law enforcement agencies and for the friendship and support we received from allies and friends. 

With this sad chapter behind us, we will now continue our advocacy work. We will fight against hate crimes and demand that hate crimes against Arab Americans be given the same recognition as those against other vulnerable communities. We will continue our work empowering Arab Americans through voter registration, involvement in the political process without fear of discrimination or political exclusion. And we will continue to advocate for an inclusive immigration policy, protection for vulnerable refugees and asylees, and a foreign policy that promotes human rights and justice for all – including the long-suffering Palestinian people. Some may not like what we advocate and may even threaten us because of our advocacy – but we will persist because we know that it is our duty, as Americans, to continue to fight for what we know is right. 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Arab American Institute. The Arab American Institute is a non-profit, nonpartisan national leadership organization that does not endorse candidates.

Continue reading

What Is Israel Trying to Hide?

Reps. Tlaib & Omar Blocked from Taking Official Trip to West Bank


Democracy Now!  August 16, 2019

    GUESTS
    Mustafa Barghouti
    member of the Palestinian Parliament, secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative, a political party. He was a presidential candidate in the 2005 elections.
    Rebecca Vilkomerson
    executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Israel sparked outrage Thursday when it banned two freshman Democratic congresswomen of color — Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota — from entering the country. Following outcry from Democratic leaders and Palestinians, Israel granted permission for Tlaib to enter the country on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her family in the West Bank — though Tlaib said Friday she will not visit her family under such conditions. Israel originally denied entrance to Tlaib and Omar after President Donald Trump tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people.” Congressmembers Tlaib and Omar are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, and were planning to tour East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. Both congresswomen have voiced support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement, a global solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The nonviolent movement seeks to use economic and cultural pressure to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. We speak with Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council and secretary general of the Palestinian National Initiative political party, and Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Israel has announced it will conditionally allow Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib to visit family in the West Bank, a day after it barred both Tlaib and fellow Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from entering Israel to travel to occupied Palestine. Israel is still refusing entry to Omar. Israel initially blocked entry to both lawmakers after President Trump took the unprecedented step of publicly urging Israel to bar entry to the women, the first two female Muslim members of Congress. Trump tweeted Thursday, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people,” he tweeted.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his decision Thursday. Israeli prime minister defended the decision to bar both the U.S. lawmakers.

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] By law, we are not willing to admit anyone into Israel who calls for the boycott of the state of Israel and acts to delegitimize the state of the Jews.

AMY GOODMAN: Israeli authorities say Congressmember Tlaib will now be allowed entry on “humanitarian” grounds to visit her ailing 90-year-old grandmother, on the condition she does not promote the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement during her visit. Both Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar have voiced support for the BDS movement, the global solidarity campaign with the Palestinian people. The nonviolent movement seeks to use economic and cultural pressure to force Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands. The congresswomen were planning to tour East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank.

After learning of the ban, Congressmember Ilhan Omar released a statement that read, in part, quote, “It is an affront that Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, under pressure from President Trump, would deny entry to representatives of the U.S. government. Trump’s Muslim ban is what Israel is implementing, this time against two duly elected Members of Congress,” she said.

Both centrist and progressive Democrats criticized Israel’s move and Trump’s statements. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged Israel to reconsider its decision. Meanwhile, Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “I cannot move forward with scheduling any visits to Israel until all members of Congress are allowed.” Despite outcry from Democratic leaders, as well as Palestinians, President Trump doubled down on his position later on Thursday.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: They are very anti-Jewish, and they’re very anti-Israel. I think it’s disgraceful, the things they’ve said. You have lists of — this isn’t just a one-line mistake. What they’ve said about Israel and Jewish people is a horrible thing, and they’ve become the face of the Democrat Party. So, I did absolutely put out a very strong statement. I think if you look at their language, if you look at what they’ve said, if I ever said it, it would be a — it would be a horrible — it would be a horrible month, to put it mildly. So, the things that they’ve said, Omar, Tlaib, what they’ve said is disgraceful. So I can’t imagine why Israel would let them in.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the staunchly pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, sponsored a trip to Israel for 41 Democratic members of Congress. The delegation was led by the House majority leader, Maryland Democrat Steny Hoyer. After news broke that Congressmembers Tlaib and Omar were blocked from entering Israel, Hoyer called Israeli officials on the congresswomen’s behalf to no avail. He later released a statement saying Israel’s decision was outrageous. Even AIPAC tweeted its disapproval, saying, quote, “every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” AIPAC said.

The congresswomen’s trip was co-sponsored by Miftah, a West Bank-based nongovernmental organization, the organization founded by Hanan Ashrawi, the senior Palestinian official with the Palestine Liberation Organization. This is Hanan Ashrawi responding to news of the trip’s cancellation.

Continue reading

Israel Denies Entry to Omar and Tlaib After Trump’s Call to Block Them


Isabel Kershner, Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Peter Baker, New York Times, Aug. 15, 2019

JERUSALEM — Under intense pressure from President Trump, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government on Thursday barred two members of the United States Congress from entering Israel, reversing a previous decision to admit two of the president’s most outspoken critics.

By enlisting a foreign power to take action against two American citizens, let alone elected members of Congress, Mr. Trump crossed a line that other presidents have not, in effect exporting his partisan battles beyond the country’s borders. And he demonstrated the lengths that he will go to to target his domestic opponents, in this case two of the congresswomen of color he has sought to make the face of the Democratic Party heading into his re-election campaign.

In blocking the visits of the two Democratic congresswomen, who are both Muslim, Mr. Netanhyahu cited their support for boycotting Israel, acceding to the wishes of the American president, who declared on Twitter shortly before Israel’s announcement that letting them in would “show great weakness.”

[Is B.D.S. anti-Semitic? A closer look at the boycott Israel campaign.]

The move not only inflamed the politics of both countries, it joined Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu even more closely as partners against their mutual adversaries as the prime minister faces a critical election next month.

Speaking with reporters before flying to Manchester, N.H., for a rally, Mr. Trump would not say whether he spoke directly with Mr. Netanyahu about the matter but acknowledged that he “did speak with people” privately even before tweeting about it.

The congresswomen, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, are vocal supporters of the Palestinians and the movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S.

The president has repeatedly attacked them, along with Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts, at one point demanding that they “go back” to their home countries, even though they are all American citizens.

Israel’s decision was criticized not only by Democrats but also by some top Republicans, including Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, also said it was a mistake.

In a statement, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel respects Congress but defended the decision. “As a free and vibrant democracy,” he said, “Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for, and work to impose, boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prevent the entry of people believed to be damaging to the country.”

Mr. Trump, who has sought to elevate a handful of controversial but relatively powerless liberal freshmen of color into symbols of the opposition, promptly welcomed the decision on Twitter. “Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” he wrote.

His ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, said Israel had “every right to protect its borders” against activists who support the boycott movement, which he deemed “no less than economic warfare.”

Ms. Omar, who has drawn criticism even from fellow Democrats for engaging in anti-Semitic tropes in criticizing Israel, said the decision to bar them was “an affront” to freedom.

“The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation,” she said in a statement.


President Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel in March at the White House. (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The decision put Israel at odds with Republicans like Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House minority leader. “I think all should come,” he said during his own visit to Israel last weekend.

Mr. Rubio also spoke out against the move. “I disagree 100% with Reps. Tlaib & Omar on #Israel & am the author of the #AntiBDS bill we passed in the Senate,” he tweeted. “But denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake. Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.” Continue reading