Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar made clear late Wednesday that she will boycott Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s speech to a joint meeting of Congress next week, citing Israel’s increasingly deadly assault on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Netanyahu government’s effort to dramatically weaken judicial oversight.
“There is no way in hell I am attending the joint session address from a president whose country has banned me and denied Rep. Rashida Tlaib the ability to see her grandma,” Omar (D-Minn.) wrote on Twitter, referring to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2019 decision to bar the two Muslim lawmakers from entering Israel.
“Herzog’s address comes on behalf 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,” Omar continued. “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.”
“And above all,” she added, the July 19 speech will come in the wake of “Israel’s largest incursion into the occupied West Bank in two decades, one that flattened city blocks, and killed at least a dozen people” in and around the Jenin refugee camp.
Late last month, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders formally invited Herzog, whose role as head of state is largely ceremonial, to address a joint meeting of U.S. lawmakers. Israeli Brigadier General Naama Rosen-Grimberg, Herzog’s military secretary, is expected to join the president on the U.S. trip, drawing outrage from human rights advocates who pointed to her decision to approve the detention of 74-year-old Palestinian-American Jamal Niser without charge or trial.
Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN) has urged the Biden administration to revoke Rosen-Grimberg’s visa and deny her entry to the U.S.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), one of the most vocal and hawkish supporters of Israel in Congress, said in a statement last month that he is “pleased Congress will have the opportunity to hear from President Herzog, who has always been a great leader and is particularly influential at this time, to commemorate 75 years of the success of the State of Israel and the strong, enduring U.S.-Israel alliance.”
Congressional leaders did not so much as hint at concerns over the Netanyahu government’s ongoing attempt to overhaul the Israeli judiciary, a move that would further empower the far-right Israeli parliament.
Nor did they mention growing settler violence in the West Bank and the Israeli government’s escalating attacks on Palestinians in the occupied territory. According to an analysis by Middle East Eye, 2022 was the deadliest year for Palestinians in the West Bank since 2005.
So far in 2023, Israeli forces and settlers have killed more than 100 Palestinians.
Earlier this week, the United Nations special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories released a report noting that “arbitrary and deliberate ill-treatment is inflicted upon the Palestinians not only through unlawful practices in detention but also as a carceral continuum comprised of techniques of large-scale confinement — physical, bureaucratic, digital — beyond detention.”
“These violations may amount to international crimes prosecutable under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and universal jurisdiction,” the report stated. “Israel’s occupation has been a tool of settler colonial conquest also through intensifying methods of confinement against an entire people who — as any people would — continuously rebel against their prison wardens.”
Omar, who has frequently criticized U.S. military support for Israel as it brutalizes Palestinians, wrote Wednesday that “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.”
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