Ilhan Omar is already changing Washington

By | August 16, 2019

Emily Tamkin writes:

This week, Donald Trump opened a new front in his war against women of color in Congress. “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” the president tweeted Thursday morning, referring to Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, two young Muslim Democrats who make up half of the progressive congressional “squad” that Trump last month wished would “go back” to “the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” This time, Trump was even less nuanced in assailing Omar and Tlaib: “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds… They are a disgrace!”

On one hand, such attacks aren’t new—particularly to Omar, who is in her first term as a representative from Minneapolis and is perhaps the most controversial of all the high-profile progressive Democrats, which include her fellow “squad” members (Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley), the co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus (Pramila Jayapal and Mark Pocan), and champions of rethinking U.S. intervention abroad (Ro Khanna). Last month, Omar introduced a resolution arguing that “all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.” Though it doesn’t mention Israel or Palestine by name, the resolution was meant to protect the speech of advocates of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which promotes economic pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and grant full equality to Arab citizens. Omar’s political opponents and some members of the media quickly characterized her measure as an “anti-Israel resolution.” National Republican Senatorial Committee Adviser Matt Whitlock tweeted that her resolution compared Israel to Nazi Germany, complete with a screenshot of the resolution’s text, which clearly showed that it didn’t.

In this week’s case, however, Trump’s insta-published line of attack quickly became foreign policy. Israeli officials confirmed that they planned to bar Omar and Tlaib from entering the country on a visit because of “suspected provocations and promotion of BDS.” “We won’t allow those who deny our right to exist in this world to enter Israel,” Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely announced shortly after Trump’s tweet, adding (in a manner that sounded not unlike Trump), “In principle, this is a very justified decision.”

The irony of that decision is rich, particularly in the case of Omar, who sits on the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee, which helps dole out roughly $4 billion a year in U.S. aid to Israel. Her presence in one of the government’s most influential old clubs has produced plenty of heat on right-wing airwaves, but it’s the light—her potential to steer her country and her party toward a different foreign policy—that’s far more interesting. Can a legislator like Omar bring change to the way foreign affairs matters are conducted on the Hill without being overwhelmed by controversy? Or is the controversy just a sign that such change is already underway? [Continue reading…]

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