Arab MK sends letter of support to US congresswomen targeted by Trump
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Arab MK sends letter of support to US congresswomen targeted by Trump

Aida Touma-Sliman tells Democratic lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib that US president’s attacks resemble Netanyahu rhetoric, pledges to help them visit Israel and West Bank

MK Aida Touma-Sliman leads a Status of Women and Gender Equality Committee meeting at the Knesset on November 21, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Aida Touma-Sliman leads a Status of Women and Gender Equality Committee meeting at the Knesset on November 21, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Arab-Israeli lawmaker on Thursday sent official letters to two US congresswomen recently targeted by US President Donald Trump, thanking them for their “tireless work on behalf of the Palestinian people” and likening Trump to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

MK Aida Touma-Sliman of the Hadash-Ta’al faction sent the identical letters to Democratic lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to “extend a message of solidarity” to the two women after Trump directed nativist verbal assaults against them.

“In these dark times all people of conscience must stand together and fight against such vile racist and sexist attacks,” Touma-Sliman wrote. “When I read of President Trump’s vicious attacks, I was struck by the similarity between his racist incitement and that practiced by his close ally PM Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly targeted Palestinian citizens and lawmakers and their Jewish allies.”

“These two leaders represent a widening international far-right movement which is a danger to us all — as women, as members of minorities, and as upholders of democracy,” she wrote in the letters, which were first published by the Haaretz daily.

From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Democrat-Michigan, Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat-Minnesota., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat-New York, and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, Democrat-Massachusetts, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Touma-Sliman committed to doing whatever was in her power to enable a planned upcoming visit by Omar and Tlaib to the West Bank and Israel, which Netanyahu is reportedly considering blocking, and offered to meet with Omar and Tlaib if they visit.

Omar and Tlaib have been accused of harboring anti-Israel sentiment, in part due to their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. In 2017, Israel enacted a controversial law barring entry to any foreigner who “knowingly issues a public call for boycotting Israel.”

“I believe it is important for you to meet the people who are fighting for peace and freedom from within Israel — Palestinians and Jews alike,” Touma-Sliman wrote.

On Sunday, Trump tweeted that a group of Democratic congresswomen of color, referring to Reps. Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley should “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”

He did not name the lawmakers but his comments were widely seen as directed against the outspoken freshman Democrats, self-described as “the squad.” All were born in the US except for Omar, who came to the US as a child after fleeing Somalia with her family.

Trump accused the four of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and told them, “If you hate our country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave!”

US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Williams Arena in Greenville, N.C., July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

In further tirades against the congresswomen, he has slammed them as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic.

“If Democrats want to unite around the foul language & racist hatred spewed from the mouths and actions of these very unpopular & unrepresentative congresswomen, it will be interesting to see how it plays out. I can tell you that they have made Israel feel abandoned by the U.S.,” he tweeted this week.

Most Israeli officials refrained from commenting on Trump’s ranting.

Yossi Beilin, an ex-justice minister who served in the Labor and Meretz parties, denounced Trump’s comments, noting that Trump himself was the grandson of immigrants.

“Trump is part of just the second generation from his family to be born in America and he talks about people who come from countries that don’t have appropriate governments? Does he not remember where his own family came from? What kind of inappropriate rulers they’ve had?” Beilin told The Times of Israel this week.

Trump’s grandfather Frederick Trump immigrated to the US from Germany in 1885.

Yossi Beilin attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Knesset, on July 9, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“He should be careful that others don’t tell him to return back to where he came from,” Beilin quipped.

Beilin lamented Trump’s decision to “bring Israel into this matter,” arguing that it will cause considerable damage to the historically bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

While Beilin spoke freely on the matter, current Israeli officials have avoided taking shots at the president, despite his employment of rhetoric that has been used against Jews and other minorities around the world.

The Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, the Education Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry all declined requests for comment. The Jewish Agency and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum similarly chose not to respond.

The Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry, the Education Ministry and the Diaspora Affairs Ministry all declined requests for comment. The Jewish Agency and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum similarly chose not to respond.

Beilin claimed that nobody in Netanyahu’s government will criticize the White House without the premier’s go ahead.

The Blue and White, Labor and Meretz parties also refused to comment.

The lone MKs who did speak out on the matter were Hadash-Ta’al chairman Ayman Odeh and Touma-Sliman.

“Trump went on a racist attack against left wing congresswomen of color. Trump and Netanyahu work in the same way. They represent the same racism, nationalism and incitement against minorities as a political tool,” Touma-Sliman said in a statement retweeted by Odeh.

Hadash party leader MK Ayman Odeh speaks during a discussion on a bill to dissolve the parliament, at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Danny Ayalon, a former Yisrael Beytenu MK who served as ambassador to the US from 2002-2006, defended Trump and asserted that the US president had no racist intentions.

“I think this was just to chastise [them] in the sense that if they [purport to be] such human rights champions, but their records show that when real abuses occur, they haven’t done anything about them,” Ayalon argued.

The former ambassador added that had Trump directed his comments at someone from Europe, “I don’t think anyone would have claimed racism.”

In the US, while most Republicans avoided criticizing the sitting president, four Congress members from Trump’s party voted in favor of a House resolution condemning his remarks: Rep. Will Hurd, Rep. Susan Brooks, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick and Rep. Fred Upton.

In response to the resolution, Trump tweeted that he doesn’t have a “racist bone” in his body.

However, some Republicans have criticized a crowd chanting “Send her back,” referring to Omar, during a Trump rally Wednesday.

Trump himself said he “was not happy” with the chants.

Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy told reporters that such cries “have no place in our party and no place in this country.”

But McCarthy, a staunch Trump ally, said the president’s aversion to Omar is based on ideology, not race.

“This is about socialism vs. freedom,” he said, a refrain Republicans are increasingly using as they begin trying to frame their offensive against Democrats for the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns.

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