Cancelled “squad trip” to West Bank puts U.S. Israel policy in the spotlight

Democratic Party House members Rashida Tlaib (left) and Ilhan Omar


In August, an announced trip by freshman House members Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to the occupied West Bank drew the ire of President Trump and other GOP politicians. The Netanyahu government decided to bar entry to the two legislators using the urging of Trump, who tweeted that the pair “hate Israel & all Jewish people,” as a cover.

An article in The New York Times expressed concern that Trump’s call to bar Omar and Tlaib would undermine the bipartisan consensus in support of Israel. In doing so, The Times admits the strategic role played by Israel in U.S. Mideast policy:

“If Israel becomes a partisan issue in the United States, advocates warn that there could be negative consequences for both countries. Israel’s security would be severely undermined without the political, economic and military support that flows from bipartisan backing in Washington. And if Israel is weakened, so too is the United States’ position in the Middle East, which is always stronger when both parties are behind it.”

After an international outcry, and protests from usually compliant Democrats in Congress, the Israeli government reversed course offering a “humanitarian” entry to Tlaib to visit her family in the West Bank. This “humanitarian” exception put political preconditions on Tlaib, a Palestinian-American.

After initially agreeing to “respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit,” Tlaib reversed course, saying that she would not allow the Israeli government to cause her to “bow down to their oppressive and racist policies.” In a tweet, Tlaib stated: “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she (her grandmother) wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in—fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The controversy over the Tlaib and Omar trip to Palestine put the Democratic Party in a difficult position. The Democrats, in keeping with the bipartisan policy of support for imperialism, are usually reliable allies of the Zionist apartheid state. The new crop of “progressive” Democrats seems more willing to criticize the policies and actions of Israel, drawing the fury of the GOP and false accusations of anti-Semitism. Recently, the Alabama GOP called for Omar’s removal from Congress. Criticism of the policies and actions of the Zionist state are not anti-Semitic.

Both Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somalia, and Tlaib, who is the daughter of working-class Palestinian immigrants, have been more consistent in their criticism of Israel than other members of the so-called “squad” within the Democratic Party. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and Ayanna Pressley have not been reliable defenders of Palestinian rights. Pressley voted in favor of Resolution 246, which condemned the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions solidarity campaign. AOC had condemned the Israeli violence against Gaza during her election campaign but quickly hedged on her criticism by admitting that she isn’t an “expert.”

Meanwhile, Israel’s repressive policies against Palestinians, including home demolitions, internment without trial, and the construction of illegal settlements, continue with the tacit approval of Trump and the U.S. ruling class. Israel is proceeding with construction of more than 2300 new homes for settlers in the occupied West Bank. The alleged “resistance” to Trump in the Democratic Party has been mild in expressing any criticism of the apartheid state. The main contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020 remain supportive of Israel.

In office, the four “progressive” women Congress members have been the target of racist invective and red baiting from the right. The “squad” members have been singled out for particular abuse from Trump, who called for them to “go back where they come from,” ignoring the fact that all four are U.S. citizens and that only one of them, Omar, was born outside the U.S. In reality, Trump’s targeting of the four young women is based on their ethnicity and religion. Tlaib and Omar are Muslims. Ocasio-Cortez, of Puerto Rican descent, was born and raised in New York. Pressley is African-American.

Trump’s racist rhetoric serves to reinforce the white supremacist myth that people of color are not “real” Americans. Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib are also members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

In office, the four have not been consistently progressive voters, despite the mainstream media attempt to tie them together as a group.  Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib voted for the $738 billion Trump war budget. All four voted against the $4.6 billion in funding for Trump’s anti-immigrant operations along the U.S.-Mexico border, but it’s telling that they all voted for a resolution to bring the bill to the House floor before voting against it.

The presence of “progressive” and housebroken socialists in the Democratic Party serves to reinforce illusions that the Democrats can be used to make real social change. Revolutionaries reject the notion that working inside one of the two parties of imperialism, exploitation, and war can result in anything other than a few distorted reforms. Revolutionaries understand that the Democratic Party is the “graveyard of social movements.”

Socialists and real progressives who genuinely want fundamental social change should be fighting for an independent working-class party—a labor party based on fighting unions and organizations of the oppressed.

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