by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
As the base of the Democratic Party has become increasingly hostile toward Israel, its leaders have sought to draw a distinction between opposing specific policies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and opposing the nation of Israel itself. But it’s getting harder and harder for that distinction to hold.
On Wednesday, when Israel’s President Isaac Herzog speaks to Congress, at least five progressive Democrats will be boycotting. Representative Ilhan Omar led the way last week by tweeting that there was “no way in hell” she would attend. She was followed by “Squad”-mates: Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, and Jamaal Bowman.
When Democratic leadership decided to invite Herzog to speak last fall, it was viewed as a noncontroversial way to commemorate Israel’s 75th anniversary. In Israel’s parliamentary system, the prime minister steers policy, while the president serves as the ceremonial head of state, with no policy portfolio. To the extent that Herzog has weighed in on policy matters in recent months, it has been to urge Netanyahu to seek compromise and back off his reforms of the nation’s judiciary. In short, there is no reason for members to boycott Herzog unless their objections are to Israel in general, rather than over a specific policy or figure.
The left-wing Netroots Nation conference, which ran from last Thursday to Saturday, became a forum for Israel-bashing. Omar declared, “We definitely need people who know what it’s like to experience occupation, whether it is in Ukraine or Palestinian people who have now experienced occupation and displacement for 75 years.” Given that Omar traced the Israeli “occupation” all the way back to its founding, rather than to the territories captured during 1967’s Six Day War, it leaves little doubt that she considers the mere existence of Israel to be illegitimate.