ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Herzog a 'faithful policy envoy' for Netanyahu government

‘No way in hell’: Likely starting trend, Ilhan Omar to skip Herzog speech to Congress

Progressive Democrat says president of country that banned 1st female Muslim US lawmakers and has ‘violations of human rights,’ shouldn’t have been invited to address joint session

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks during a news conference by the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the threat of default, Wednesday, May 24, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks during a news conference by the Congressional Progressive Caucus on the threat of default, Wednesday, May 24, 2023, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar announced on Wednesday that she would be boycotting President Isaac Herzog’s address to a joint session of the US Congress next week in what likely is to start a trend among other progressives in her party.

“There is no way in hell I am attending,” Omar wrote in a Twitter thread that listed nearly a dozen reasons for her decision.

Herzog is slated to give the speech marking Israel’s 75th anniversary on Wednesday after receiving an invitation last year by then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi, which current Speaker Kevin McCarthy reissued earlier this year.

While Herzog is seen as a more palatable figure for many Democrats who have long soured on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Omar’s announcement demonstrated that animosity toward Israel runs much deeper than any particular government.

At the same time, the hardline nature of the current coalition is sure to make it easier for other progressive lawmakers to follow Omar’s lead.

“We should not be inviting the president of Israel — a government who under its current prime minister barred the first two Muslim women elected to Congress from visiting the country — to give a joint address to Congress,” Omar tweeted in all caps, noting that ban had meant fellow Muslim congresswoman Rashida Tlaib was unable to visit her grandmother who lives in the West Bank.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, Democrat of Minnesota, right, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, at a news conference, August 19, 2019 at the State Capitol in St. Paul, Minnesota, after their planned trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank was blocked by Israel. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

Omar and Tlaib were barred entry in 2019 over their previous support of the anti-Israel Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement and over the Israeli assumption that they would use their visit to advance their boycott activism. Netanyahu’s decision was encouraged by then-US president Donald Trump, a Republican.

While Omar recognized that Herzog is a head of state rather than a head of government and does not dictate policy, she characterized him as a “faithful policy ambassador” of the “most right-wing government in Israel’s history, at a time when the government is openly promising to ‘crush’ Palestinian hopes of statehood— essentially putting a nail in the coffin of peace and a two-state solution.”

The Democratic congresswoman was quoting Netanyahu, who reportedly told fellow Likud lawmakers last month that Israel “needs to crush [the Palestinian] ambition” for an independent state.

“It comes as extreme right-wing Israeli cabinet members directly attack President Biden, saying Israel is ‘no longer a star’ on the US flag,” referring to a remark made by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir after Biden called Netanyahu’s cabinet “one of the most extreme” he has ever seen.

“It also comes as the Israeli government is pushing through what legal experts describe as a judicial coup to centralize power and undermine checks on their power, prompting months of mass demonstrations against the government throughout Israel,” Omar continued, referring to the Netanyahu government’s contentious effort to overhaul the judiciary.

“And above all, it comes during the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank in history, immediately following Israel’s largest incursion into the occupied West Bank in two decades, one that flattened city blocks, and killed at least a dozen people,” she said.

Palestinians inspect a damaged house in the Jenin refugee camp, July 5, 2023, after the Israeli army withdrew its forces from the terrorist stronghold. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The year 2002 was far more deadly for West Bank Palestinians, though. Israel that year launched Operation Defensive Shield in response to the Second Intifada during which nearly 500 Palestinians were killed. Thus far this year, 152 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank — most of them during clashes with security forces or while carrying out attacks, but some were uninvolved civilians and others were killed under unclear circumstances.

While a dozen people were indeed killed during last week’s IDF counter-terror operation in Jenin, the Israeli military has said that all of them were believed to have been combatants.

Still, Omar maintained that “human rights groups, legal experts, and most of the international community has condemned the increasing violations of international law and human rights. These are all deeply concerning trends—especially considering the fact that we provide Israel with nearly $4 billion in annual military aid.”

She went on to recall that the last time an Israeli leader was invited to give a joint address to Congress, it was Netanyahu in 2015 and it was done in defiance of then-president Barack Obama in order to lobby against the Iran nuclear deal that the latter had negotiated.

Omar pointed out that just last month she boycotted the joint address given by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “based on his government’s human rights record” and she would be taking the same step next week as well.

“The United States can and should use its diplomatic tools to engage with the Israeli government, but giving the current government the honor of a joint televised address sends the absolute wrong signal at the wrong time,” Omar concluded.

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