Ever since the United States first officially recognized Israel mere minutes after its founding, the great strength of the Israeli-American friendship has been its broad support in both parties and across different faiths. Even though, according to the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of Jewish Americans identify as Democrats or Democratic-leaning, Republicans – both in elected office and at the grassroots level – have largely supported Israel over the years. That bipartisan support is integral to maintaining the close relationship between the United States and Israel, one that is vital to both countries and to the Middle East (indeed, the world) as a whole.

Sadly, it appears that mainstream bipartisan consensus on Israel may be increasingly under threat. A small number of freshman Democrats have been vocal in criticizing Israel’s policies – as, of course, is their right in a free society, no matter how misguided they may be. Two of them, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, were recently supposed to visit Israel. It’s not uncommon for members of Congress to conduct visits overseas, meeting with their counterparts abroad and learning about the challenges facing other nations. It’s part of their duties to be well-versed about global affairs so they can provide oversight over the executive branch.

Omar’s and Tlaib’s outspoken criticism of Israel (as well as their ethnic and religious backgrounds) led many to suspect their trip was not a simple fact-finding mission, however. That argument might be dismissed were it not for the fact that both of them had skipped a recent bipartisan congressional delegation to Israel in order to go on their own trip. Even so, Israel had approved their plans and they were all set to go ahead – until, of course, Donald Trump tweeted that it would “show great weakness” for Israel to let them visit. After that, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu barred them from entering the country.

All three parties may have served their short-term political interests well, but not their countries’. Trump was wrong that it was weak of Israel to allow its critics to visit: That is, in fact, a sign of strength. While Israel was all set to allow Tlaib and Omar to visit, Turkey has barred Boston Celtic Enes Kanter simply because he has criticized the regime there. This would have been an excellent opportunity for Israel to demonstrate how welcoming they are; instead, they look weak by being unwilling to let critics into the country.

For Trump, this serves his domestic political purposes well. By drawing attention to Omar’s and Tlaib’s visit, he continued to elevate them in the mind of the American public, making them the face of the Democratic Party. That helps him because it allows him to portray any of his potential opponents as too extreme for most Americans, and sows further division among the opposition. Further, his strident support of Israel plays well among his own base, so it’s a win-win for him.

Omar and Tlaib have also gotten a win from this confrontation. Their canceled trip probably has earned them more publicity than the actual trip itself ever would have. It further enhanced their credibility among the liberal grassroots, as they yet again proved themselves willing to take on Trump directly. They continue to score political points every time they draw Trump’s ire, and that works well for their careers.

Benjamin Netanyahu is facing a tough election in just a few weeks. He has to consolidate the support of conservative voters in order to be re-elected, and barring two female Muslim members of the U.S. Congress from entering the country helps him with that. It also allows him to demonstrate his close ties with Donald Trump, the president who finally actually moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, as promised by so many of his predecessors.

The rancor over this incident doesn’t serve either country well. Turning support for Israel into a more partisan issue in the U.S. doesn’t strengthen the two countries’ relationship, it erodes it. That’s bad for not only Israel and the U.S., but also the entire world. Like it or not, Israel is the most stable, most democratic country in the region, and they could use more reliable neighbors. That process becomes harder if the region knows the U.S. will just flip policies after the next election. That’s why the notion of foreign policy being less political is an important one that shouldn’t just be tossed out the window by either party.

Jim Fossel, a conservative activist from Gardiner, worked for Sen. Susan Collins. He can be contacted at:

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Twitter: jimfossel


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