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Ilhan Omar Is Against Sanctions, Except When The Target Is Israel


Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) published an op-ed in The Washington Post yesterday condemning the use of sanctions to motivate countries to change. According to Omar, “too often, sanction regimes are ill considered, incoherent and counterproductive.” She then details how sanctions frequently end up harming civilians “without making a dent in a country’s behavior.”

In short, Omar offers a stunning rebuke of sanctions. There’s only one problem: Omar is one of the loudest advocates of the boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) movement against Israel.

The BDS movement is a global movement precipitated upon bringing about the complete isolation of Israel — economically, diplomatically, and socially — supposedly in the hopes that such pressure will compel Israel to end its presence in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel has remained in the those regions after its victory in the Six-Day War, where it defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. As such, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have presented a complex intersection of security concerns for Israel, compelling the continued presence of the Israeli army in the region, to the consternation of many who tend to misunderstand the region’s national security implications.

To be sure, there’s evidence that Omar is aware of the hypocrisy in her op-ed. Indeed, it would take someone lacking any modicum of self-awareness to miss the flagrant discrepancy between what she advocates against Israel and what she advocates against everyone else. Indeed, Omar appeared on national television advocating for the BDS movement, declaring in a CBS “Face the Nation” interview just last month, “I think the opportunity to boycott divest sanction is the kind of pressure that leads to that peaceful process.”

In an attempt to quiet critics who might (and rightfully) point out her gross hypocrisy, Omar throws a metaphorical bone, albeit a pretty weak three-sentence one:

This is not a catch-all criticism of sanctions. The use of the Global Magnitsky Act, aimed at specific individuals responsible for gross human rights violations, can be an important mechanism for accountability if they are used consistently and not simply for our geopolitical rivals. And locally led boycott or divestment campaigns, such as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, can be meaningful ways for those impacted to seek a peaceful resolution.

“Locally-led boycott or divestment campaigns” is the bucket in which Omar would likely argue her much-loved BDS movement fits. But she fails to describe how or why “locally-led boycott or divestment campaigns” are any better than or superior to state-sponsored sanction campaigns.

In fact, BDS identifies itself as a global movement nominally seeking to end international support for Israel’s policies in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip—hardly the grassroots movement she’d like it to be conveniently characterized as, solely for the purposes of this op-ed. Despite this more charitable reading, the BDS movement arguably is not about influencing Israel’s policies but about ending Israel’s existence.

An examination of the patchwork of literature produced by BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti quickly reveals that the BDS movement is subversively focused on the destruction of the Jewish state, seemingly through first establishing a global acceptance of Israel hatred, conveniently repackaged as a sanctions movement titled “BDS.”

Barghouti, a proponent of the “one-state solution” where that one state is “Mandate Palestine,” has elaborated on this vision as “a unitary state, where by definition, Jews will be a minority.” And fellow BDS activists have affirmed this perspective. Leading BDS activist and professor at the University of California-Davis As’ad AbuKhalil has declared that, given the ambiguities over the objectives of the BDS movement, ending the existence of the Jewish state “should be stated as an unambiguous goal of [BDS]. There should not be any equivocation on the subject. Justice and freedom for the Palestinians are incompatible with the existence of the state of Israel.”

Omar knows precisely what she is doing when alluding to South Africa as an example of an area where local boycott efforts were effective. This analogy is often used to romanticize the otherwise seemingly anti-Semitic underpinnings of the BDS movement, which reinvigorate the neo-Nazi rhetoric of economically, socially, and politically isolating the Jews in favor of  an allegedly important purpose. At best, the BDS movement is a moral farce that involves heaping criticism on Israel while ignoring far more egregious human rights abuses unfolding daily within the borders of Israel’s neighbors.

Omar’s piece is direct in its unspoken logical leap: If you supported boycotting South Africa, how can you not support BDS? The difference is that the anti-apartheid boycotts directed at South Africa were designed to end the horrific practice of apartheid in South Africa, not end South Africa itself.

There is no apartheid in Israel, and those who designed the machinations of the BDS movement would likely opt to terminate Israel’s existence, if given the option. In regards to claims of Israeli apartheid, David Harsanyi has powerfully outlined the ugliness and falsity of this narrative on this very site.

Israel’s laws, of course, make absolutely no distinctions based on a person’s race. Every person in Israel has the ability to participate in the democratic process, and all have equal standing under the law. Muslims in Israel have more liberal rights than Muslims anywhere in the Arab world do. What we do have is a complex situation involving one-time Jewish land that once again fell under Israeli rule after a bunch of neighboring countries tried to destroy it.

Omar is right about one thing. Boycotts do hurt local populations. When BDS targeted its campaign at Israeli-owned corporation SodaStream in 2015, the company was forced to close its primary manufacturing plant in the West Bank city of Ma’ale Adumim, where more than 500 Palestinians were employed and subsequently laid off as a result of BDS tactics. Often, the job of a single Palestinian supports an entire family.

Furthermore, the economy of the Palestinian territories is entirely reliant upon Israel, as Israel is the largest trade partner of the territories, consuming around 90 percent of Palestinian exports. In other words, to hurt the Israeli economy is to hurt the Palestinians who expect Israelis to buy their goods.

Perhaps, one sharp journalist will have the gumption to ask Omar why the only Jewish state is deserving of a sanctions movement designed to destroy its existence, while generally speaking, sanctions are supposedly very, very bad—bad enough that a whole op-ed needed to be taken out in The Washington Post to underscore their evils.

Omar’s latest piece of literature reveals the depth to which Omar holds Israel as more deserving of punishing policy moves than say, North Korea, Sudan, or Iran. Again, some sharp journalist should ask Omar what makes Israel so special to her. Given her past comments in relation to Israel, I have a few guesses.