At Trump’s Urging, Netanyahu Bars Two Members Of Congress From Entering Israel

After urging from President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has barred two Muslim-American Congressmen from visiting Israel. It is a foolish and outrageous decision.

After initially allowing them to enter the country, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to bar two Muslim-American Members of Congress from entering the country, purportedly due to their support for the movement to boycott Israel that has become something of a worldwide movement in recent years:

JERUSALEM — Israel on Thursday barred the entry of two American Democratic congresswomen who had planned to visit the West Bank, hours after President Trump had urged the country to block them.

Mr. Trump’s intervention was an extraordinary step to influence an allied nation and punish his political opponents at home.

The two congresswomen, Representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, both freshmen, are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Both are outspoken adversaries of Mr. Trump and have been vocal in their support of the Palestinians and the boycott-Israel movement.

The president has targeted them in speeches and Twitter postings that his critics have called racist and xenophobic.

It was reported last week that Mr. Trump was pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to deny entrance to the two women, and Thursday morning he left little doubt. While Israeli officials were still deliberating the matter, he said in a Twitter post that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit.”

Later on Thursday Israel’s Interior Ministry announced that Mr. Netanyahu had decided to deny entry to the two American lawmakers, on grounds of their “boycott activities against Israel” and in accordance with the country’s anti-boycott law.

Mr. Trump’s decision to recommend that another country block entry to two United States citizens, let alone members of Congress, was one of the most pronounced violations of democratic norms that he has engaged in since taking office in January 2017.

It also placed him at odds with the Republican leadership in Congress and even some pro-Israel advocacy groups in the United States.

“I feel very secure in this, that anyone who comes with open ears, open eyes and an open mind will walk away with an understanding, just as all these members here do, that this bond is unbreakable,” the House minority leader, Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, told reporters in Jerusalem on Sunday, while leading a delegation of 31 Republican lawmakers. “I think all should come.”

Speaking at a joint news conference with Mr. McCarthy, Representative Steny Hoyer, the House majority leader who was heading a delegation to Israel of 41 Democratic representatives, agreed.

Many Israelis and Jewish leaders have also expressed discomfort with the idea that American officials could be denied entry because of their beliefs or criticism of Israel. Just last month, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, said that Israel would not deny entry to any United States representatives.

Ms. Omar had been scheduled to arrive on Sunday for a tour of the West Bank, partly under the auspices of an organization headed by a longtime Palestinian lawmaker, Hanan Ashrawi, that was expected to highlight Palestinian grievances over the Israeli occupation.

The women were planning to visit the West Bank cities of Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, according to Ms. Ashrawi, including a visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque, a hotly contested and volatile holy site. Most of the delegation was expected to depart on Aug. 22, but Ms. Tlaib had been planning to stay on to visit relatives in the West Bank.

No meetings had been planned with either Israeli or Palestinian officials, other than Ms. Ashrawi, who is also a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee. She said the organization she leads, Miftah, was co-sponsoring the visit.

The purpose of the visit, Ms. Ashrawi said, was to give the congresswomen a way “to engage with the Palestinian people directly and to see things on the ground.”

“What are they afraid of?” she said, referring to the Israeli government. “That they might find out things?”

While the Israeli government has not gone into detail on the reasons that the two Congresswomen are being barred, it is likely related to things they have said in the past that have made them a point of controversy and a target of attacks from President Trump and others:

[W]hile they were hailed as symbols of diversity when they arrived in Washington, they quickly became embroiled in controversy over their statements on Israel and on supporters of the Jewish state. Ms. Omar apologized after she said support for Israel was “all about the Benjamins, baby” — a reference to $100 bills.

In early March, the House voted to condemn all forms of hatredafter Ms. Omar said pro-Israel activists were “pushing for allegiance to a foreign country,” a remark that critics in both parties said invoked the longstanding anti-Semitic trope of “dual loyalty.”

Those remarks have been deeply problematic for Democratic leaders, who are trying to demonstrate solidarity with Israel. And they have given Mr. Trump and his fellow Republicans an opening to fan the flames of racial division, in an effort to break the longstanding alliance between American Jews and the Democratic Party.

Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib’s public support for the boycott movement had already drawn criticism from the White House. In remarks last month that were widely condemned as racist, Mr. Trump said that four congresswomen of color — Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib, as well as Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts — should “go back” to the countries they came from.

Axios reported recently that President Trump had told advisers that he thought Mr. Netanyahu should bar Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar under a law that denies entry to foreign nationals who publicly show support for a boycott.

Netanyahu’s decision came just hours after President Trump took to Twitter to call on Israel to ban the two members of Congress from entering the country:

Jennifer Rubin calls the move a “grave misstep” on Israel’s part:

The ban is a stunning, unprecedented step, one that signals Israel, long a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, cannot tolerate criticism — even from nationals of its closest ally. For Netanyahu it sends the message that he is Trump’s puppet, willing to damage the long-term relationship with the United States to assuage the ego of a president who is in a political tailspin.

“This reversal is counterproductive to say the least and gives a victory to the BDS Movement. All Members of Congress would benefit from visiting Israel and seeing the diversity of the people and richness of the culture,” says Aaron Keyak, former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council. “This action also sets a dangerous precedent for the many other countries — many led by dictators and ruthless thugs — that US elected officials visit.'” He adds that this is “a painful moment for those of us who care about a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and fight for the cause of peace.”

He was not alone, according to multiple sources. Heads of major Jewish organizations had been on the phone with the U.S. ambassador to Israel imploring Israel not to take this step. According to the leader of one such group, the leader’s group had been urging the Israeli government to stick by the original decision to let the congresswomen in, while being under no illusion about the congresswomen’s views. The potential political and reputational costs of not letting them in might be even higher than of letting them in, the leader acknowledged.

And Daniel Larison calls out President Trump’s decision to side with a foreign government over two Members of Congress:

Trump’s behavior is predictably outrageous and destructive, and he is telling scurrilous lies about both Tlaib and Omar. The only disgrace is the liar in the White House. At this point, we don’t expect anything else, but this time it is particularly dangerous. Trump is engaging in incitement against Tlaib and Omar again by spreading more lies about them. He is also urging a foreign government to block elected U.S. representatives from visiting that country because of their political views and because they are his political opponents. The president is abusing his power, he is putting these Congresswomen in danger again, and he is siding with a foreign government against fellow Americans.

Other governments will be able to cite this the next time they want to block critical members of Congress from coming to their countries. That will hinder Congress in its ability to do proper oversight of U.S. relations with many states and it will prevent them from being able to learn for themselves about the effects of U.S. policies made in Washington. This will make for a worse, even less-informed Congressional role in matters of foreign policy than we already have, and in the short term it will encourage other governments to penalize the president’s domestic opponents as a way of currying favor with him.

The New York Times Editorial Board, meanwhile, wonders what the two leaders are afraid of:

Sad, to borrow one of Mr. Trump’s favorite words. How sad that two leaders — each desperate to look tough to their own bases — are risking a bipartisan relationship built between these two nations over generations. Only weak leaders would risk so much for a reward so negligible. To what end? To win a few political points against two of the newest members of Congress? To capture a few news cycles? To dial up the outrage machine just one more notch? Confident leaders would never have risked so much for so little.

Though many American presidents have sought to influence Israeli decisions throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they usually did so diplomatically — and to advance America’s interests. Mr. Trump, by contrast, leaned on Mr. Netanyahu as he would on one of his own appointees, in broad view, and in direct violation of what the president of the United States should be doing when democratically elected lawmakers are threatened with a blockade by an allied leader.

There can be, and has been, considerable debate over what the two congresswomen, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and both sharp critics of the Israeli government, have said and done. They have supported the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement aimed at pressuring Israel into ending its occupation of the West Bank, a movement which some Jews have deemed to be anti-Semitic.

(…)

[C]ontrary to Mr. Trump’s tweet, it is blocking entry by two American legislators who are critics of Israel that shows great weakness, especially after Israel hosted visits by delegations of 31 Republican and 41 Democratic lawmakers this month. It has long been Israel’s mantra that critics of its policies should come see for themselves, and the country is certainly strong enough to handle any criticism from two members of Congress. Mr. Trump has done Israel no favor.

From the Israeli side of the equation, a decision like this makes the government look as if it is incapable of absorbing and accepting criticism from its closest ally and that its leadership is willing to pander to the most extreme elements of politics in both countries for political advantage. The fact that the Netanyahu government had initially agreed to allow the Congresswomen to visit the country and then changed its positions when President Trump inserted himself into the matter suggests that it is willing to do the bidding of the Administration in order to curry favor with the President.

Additionally, the decision to bar two of the three Muslim Members of Congress from entering the country is, as Larison notes in a subsequent post, a terrible look for the Israeli government. For one thing, it appears from afar to put the lie to the Israeli government’s claim that their nation is a free and open society in which opposing points of view are welcome. If that were the case, then allowing Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib to visit the country regardless of the fact that they are critics of the government would be seen as an opportunity for Israel to showcase the fact that, unlike many of its neighbors, it is open to those with opposing points of view. Instead, this kind of move undercuts that argument and appears likely to only energize the BDS movement that appears to be the main justification for today’s decision. It also appears to show that rather than being an open society, Israel is afraid of opposing points of view to the point that it would ban people who hold them from even entering the country. This isn’t a show of Israeli strength, it is a sign of weakness and a sign that the argument it has made in the past in response to critics — that they should come and see the success of democracy in Israel for themselves — is a lie.

As for Trump, this move is hardly surprising. Omar and Tlaib and members of “the squad” that Trump has attacked in the past and whom he has told to go back to their own country notwithstanding the fact that they are all American citizens and that three out of four of them were born in the United States. It also continues to spread the false and largely debunked argument that has become popular among Republicans that the two women are anti-semitic due to the fact that they have attacked actions and policies of the Israeli government in the past. And, of course, it puts the lie to Trump’s claim that he puts America first. If that were the case then he would be criticizing Israel for barring American citizens because of their political views rather than being the head cheerleader for a decision that is, in the end, outrageous and entirely unjustifiable.

Finally, as David Frum notes on Twitter, this is yet another example of President Trump’s abuse of Presidential power and his violation of accepted political norms:

This isn’t the first time that President has done something like this, of course. Early in the year during the government shutdown, Trump used his authority to block a Congressional delegation led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi from using government planes to visit American troops in Afghanistan. In that case, Trump’s move was just a childish response to Pelosi’s decision to cancel the State Of The Union Address until after the government shutdown was resolved. This time, we have an American President siding with a foreign government over American citizens and members of a co-equal branch of the Federal Government. I’d say that I am shocked, but I’m really not.

This is a dumb and unjustifiable decision on the part of Netanyahu and an outrageous decision on the part of the President. For both men, though, it will likely be cheered on by the most radical of their supporters. In the end, this is an entirely predictable decision by both men, and it tells us all we need to know about both of them.

Update: In a partial reversal, Israel has granted Congresswoman Tlaib permission to visit the West Bank on humanitarian grounds due to the fact that her grandmother is in poor health. it is unclear if she will be permitted to conduct any of her other planned meetings.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Donald Trump, Israel, Politicians, US Politics, , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    Netanyahu has accelerated the separation of Israelis from American and European Jews. He’s thrown his lot in with anti-semitic, white supremacist evangelical Christians who expect to spend eternity in heaven laughing down at Jews roasting in hell. He’s traded ‘family’ for ‘frenemies.’ Israel exists today because of American Jews. Once broken that connection will be all but impossible to repair. He’s a fool, and the Israelis who support him are fools.

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  2. Gustopher says:

    I don’t think it’s in Israel’s best interest to get involved in America’s partisan divide. I don’t think it was a good idea for the NFL or Papa John’s Pizza either.

    The next Democratic President is going to inherit this relationship, and respond accordingly.

    But, they chose this, so sucks to be them.

  3. Kylopod says:

    Tweet from Tom Malinowski:

    First he tells Congresswoman Tlaib to “go back” to “her” country, and then he tells that country not to let her in.

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  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Both Trump and Netanhayoo are weaklings. And short-sighted.
    Having said that, this is just another bright object that will be over in a couple days when the next major scandal rears it’s head.
    SQUIRREL!!!
    In the meantime we ain’t talking about gun control, imminent recession, caving on tariffs, inviting Russian election interference, Trump’s friend Epstein, credible rape charges, kids in cages, subpoenas, or Impeachment.

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  5. CSK says:

    For Trump, the exercise of his vindictiveness is everything.

  6. Sleeping Dog says:

    When Bebe loses AIPAC, that confirms he did something stupid.

    This only bolsters Omar and Tlaib, in that it lends credence to the idea that they are influential and opponents to be reckoned with. Which of course they aren’t.

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  7. Kathy says:

    Once upon a time, Kuwait Airways(*) ran a flight from JFK to Kuwait with a stop in London. The segment was a “5th freedom flight,” meaning it could take passengers in NYC and fly them only to London, and viceversa. Such flights are uncommon, and require permission from the authorities in all 3 countries.

    One time an Israeli citizen wanted to fly from NYC to London on Kuwait Airways, as the fare was very attractive. He was denied passage by the airline, which alleged the Kuwaiti government bars Israelis from passage on their airline, or to their country for that matter. the man sued an eventually won. Kuwait Airways eventually dropped the NYC-London portion.

    And now Netanyahu has sunk to the level of pre-democratic autocrats in a culturally backwards desert kingdom. Well done.

    (*) Some days, everything can be reduced to aviation.

  8. Jen says:

    It seems like a spectacularly bad precedent to set, but then again this is Trump and it’s a day ending in ‘y.’

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  9. Ray wangen says:

    I wish people could wrap their heads around the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

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  10. An Interested Party says:

    I wish people could wrap their heads around the difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

    Or even anti-Likud…of course, there are plenty of dishonest critics who know that criticism of Israeli policies is neither anti-Zionism nor anti-Semitism but who still make such disingenuous claims anyway…

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  11. Jax says:

    If they won’t let our duly elected Congress-critters in, said Congress-critters should stop sending all that sweet US taxpayer-funded money and technology, and that should apply to any future countries who attempt this, not just Israel. Of course, that would require the Republican critters to grow a spine.

    I’ve never had any doubt that Trump would use all the power of the government to go after people he perceived to be his personal/political “enemies”, but it seemed like the majority thought our “checks and balances” would hold. To quote Bob Dylan….the times, they are a changing.

    1 year, 2 months and 19 days left of the farce we call the Trump Presidency, and then hopefully it will be over.

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  12. DrDaveT says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    In the meantime we ain’t talking about gun control, imminent recession, caving on tariffs, inviting Russian election interference, Trump’s friend Epstein, credible rape charges, kids in cages, subpoenas, or Impeachment.

    No human mind can simultaneously focus on all of the things about the Trump ‘administration’ that would be the worst and most disqualifying feature of any other administration.

  13. charon says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t think it’s in Israel’s best interest to get involved in America’s partisan divide.

    This is nothing new, Bibi and his government have been openly supporting the GOP for years.

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  14. Tyrell says:

    I think this is a mistake of the Israeli government, which I usually support and respect, with some exceptions. I don’t think that these two ladies are going to pose any type of threat or danger to anyone there. This would have been an opportunity for discussion and dialogue. A chance for those with varying views to talk and learn.

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  15. Mister Bluster says:

    …discussion and dialogue.

    Trump: ‘Knock the Crap Out’ of Protesters, I’ll Pay Legal Fees…drug dealers, criminals and rapists, shithole countries…

    There will not be any discussion and dialogue as long as WhistleDick is President USA.

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  16. Ken_L says:

    Peter Beinart makes a powerful argument about the true reason Israel doesn’t want American members of Congress leading members of the media around Palestine:

    Most officials of mainstream American Jewish organizations have never been to the places Tlaib and Omar planned to go. They’ve never talked to Palestinians whose homes are about to be bulldozed because they lack the building permits that, as non-citizens under military rule, they can’t get. They’ve never heard Palestinian parents explain the terror they feel when Israeli soldiers come in the middle of the night to take their children to be interrogated, often for days, in the absence of a lawyer.

    They’ve never stood in a Palestinian village that receives a few hours of water per day and seen swimming pools in the settlements nearby. They’ve never visited the village of Beit Ur al-Fauqa, home to Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother, where according to a 2015 report, local children waded through sewage channels to reach a high school enclosed by the separation barrier on three sides. American Jewish leaders think Netanyahu is a fool because they don’t realize how much he has to hide.

    https://forward.com/opinion/429680/netanyahu-banned-omar-and-tlaib-because-he-has-something-to-hide-we-must/

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  17. Tyrell says:

    @Ken_L: Not all the Palestinians are terrorists. There are many Christians there. The leaders of Israel could help stabilize the region if they would agree to some kind of talks.
    Israel needs to provide information and take accountability for the attack on the US Navy ship SS Liberty. President Johnson did not do anything about it.
    I generally support Israel.

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  18. gVOR08 says:

    @Tyrell: You might wish to clarify. As written your comment reads as though you think all the Muslim Palestinians are terrorists.

  19. Cian says:

    Amazing isn’t it. America has supported and championed the Israeli state since its foundation politically, financially and morally. For over seventy years both Republican and Democrat administrations have pumped literally trillions of dollars into their economy, and now, since 2012 at least, Netanyahu has decided to no longer recognize democrats as legit partners. He needs to be reminded that those trillions came from American tax payers, over 50% of whom vote democrat.

  20. DrDaveT says:

    @Tyrell:

    Not all the Palestinians are terrorists. There are many Christians there.

    Not all Americans are terrorists. There are many Moslems there.

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  21. PJ says:

    Don’t behave like apartheid South Africa if you don’t want to be compared to apartheid South Africa…

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  22. Raoul says:

    Sen. Sanders is right- if Israel is unwilling to allow duly elected government officials to visit the country we should not provide financial support.

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  23. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    The leaders of Israel could help stabilize the region if they would agree to some kind of talks.

    What makes you imagine that the leaders of Israel are interested in stabilizing the region? My take over 60-some years is that they have as much interest in stabilizing the region as Republicans have in solving the immigration problem. It’s why Israelies and Republicans both need walls.

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  24. Liberal Capitalist says:

    au·toc·ra·cy /ôˈtäkrəsē/

    noun: autocracy; plural noun: autocracies

    a system of government by one person with absolute power.

    synonyms: absolutism, absolute power, totalitarianism, dictatorship, despotism, tyranny, monocracy, autarchy; dystopia

    antonyms: democracy

    – a country, state, or society governed by one person with absolute power.
    – domineering rule or control.

    ———————

    … hmmmmm.

  25. Hal10000 says:

    @Ray wangen:

    That’s tricky because the line is frequently blurred by anti-semites themselves (such as the ones organizing the Omar Tlaib trip). And “anti-Zionism” frequently translates as, “I don’t hat Jews; I just want to destroy the country where 7 million of them live.”

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  26. Kylopod says:

    @Hal10000: I agree. And this is something on which I believe significant parts of the left have a blind spot. The left has no difficulty with the concept of dogwhistles or code-words when it comes to racism, or even when it comes to anti-Semitism, at least if it involves references to “globalists” or George Soros. But somehow this seems to melt away when the subject shifts to Israel. There the reaction to just about every Israel-related controversy is the mantra “Criticism of Israel is not anti-Semitism,” even in cases where the people alleging anti-Semitism were never making such a claim. I definitely agree that the anti-Semitism charge is thrown around thoughtlessly by some people when it comes to Israel (some of my own views would be regarded as “anti-Semitic” according to some people). At the same time, I am deeply cognizant of the fact that from the moment of its creation in 1948, anti-Semitism has very often come cloaked under the guise of anti-Zionism or merely “criticism of Israel.” I’m dismayed that many on the left seem, whether willfully or unwittingly, ignorant of this history. It’s like “political correctness” is flipped around when it comes to Israel; this time it’s the right that sees practically every slight against the Netanyahu government as indicative of worldwide anti-Semitism, while the left is dismissive that there could be any sort of veiled bigotry in attacks on the Jewish state.

    What’s frustrating is that the Netanyahu government is so awful that Israel does seem to be increasingly in the process of turning into the very malevolent caricature its critics have depicted it as already being for decades. This makes it harder for me to make a case against its more bad-faith critics, or to get people to recognize the role that anti-Semitism has played, and continues to play, in worldwide condemnations of Israel. I normally hate bothsiderism when it comes to politics, but when it comes to Israel-Palestine I do often feel trapped between two rabid extremes.

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  27. Gustopher says:

    @Hal10000:

    That’s tricky because the line is frequently blurred by anti-semites themselves (such as the ones organizing the Omar Tlaib trip). And “anti-Zionism” frequently translates as, “I don’t hat Jews; I just want to destroy the country where 7 million of them live.”

    Do you have a reputable source that the organizers are anti-semites? NY Times or Washington Post, perhaps? It’s gotten to the point where I don’t believe those accusations at all. It’s like Bill Clinton — he’s been accused of so many horrible things by people who are just lying, that I no longer would believe anything short of video and a confession.

    BDS does give cover to anti-semites, but BDS is also a reasonable response to an apartheid state.

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  28. Mikey says:

    This is scummy even by Trump standards.

    Donald J. Trump
    @realDonaldTrump
    Rep. Tlaib wrote a letter to Israeli officials desperately wanting to visit her grandmother. Permission was quickly granted, whereupon Tlaib obnoxiously turned the approval down, a complete setup. The only real winner here is Tlaib’s grandmother. She doesn’t have to see her now!
    6:37 PM · Aug 16, 2019

  29. Hal_10000 says:

    @Gustopher:

    Check out Seth Mandel’s Twitter stream. He has the receipts, including repition of blood libel.

    “BDS does give cover to anti-semites, but BDS is also a reasonable response to an apartheid state”

    See, but that characterization itself is revelatory. Arabs, muslims and Palestinians have full right in Israel. The rights denial is to those living in West Bank/Gaza but that it supposed to be another country. It’s only an apartheid state if you consider them to be one state, which I don’t.