Now THAT’S A Norm Presidents Shouldn’t Mess With…

Apparently President Trump lobbied Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to bar two of the President’s least favorite members of Congress, Representatives Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota,  from entering Israel for official visits. Israel then reversed an earlier  decision to admit the two Muslim Democrats, both supporters of the international Israel boycott movement.

From the Times:

An Israeli official close to the prime minister’s office said on Thursday that a call came from the Trump administration as recently as this week pressing Mr. Netanyahu to bar the congresswomen. The official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss delicate information, said the prime minister found himself in a “lose lose” situation, having to choose between upsetting Mr. Trump or the Democrats.

Of interest but irrelevant to the ethics issue is this morning’s news that Tlaib is now being allowed to enter Israel on humanitarian grounds in order to visit her 90-year-old grandmother, provided the Congresswoman pledges  “not to  promote boycotts” while in the country. That’s nice. But it doesn’t change the analysis of what Trump did.

One of the “Big Lie” attacks (I haven’t yet added this one to the Ethics Alarms Big Lie Directory, but it will be #6) on President Trump, spurred by partisan academics and gullibly swallowed whole by history-challenged members of the public, has been that this President uniquely ignores or violates so-called “democratic norms,” meaning that he frequently takes actions that may be within his power, but that traditions, precedent and the practices of his predecessors have established as un-Presidential or even taboo. For the most part, this is contrived criticism representing a double standard and requiring historical amnesia. Presidents break norms, and the stronger ones break them frequently. Democrats attempting to equate  breaking precedents as the equivalent of “high crimes and misdemeanors” are showing their hand: this complaint is just one more unethical justification for a “resistance” coup.

The fact that there is nothing automatically wrong with breaking norms does not mean that all norms should be breached, or that breaching a particular norm is wise, responsible, or ethical. A President enlisting a foreign ally to take negative action against a member of Congress is one norm that shouldn’t be violated.

The action is unethical by any ethical standards. From a Golden Rule standpoint, no President would tolerate members of Congress lobbying foreign governments to take adverse action against him, though I have little doubt that this has been attempted by legislators in the past. Kant’s Rule of Universality would reject the practice as a new norm, and from a utilitarian standpoint, it’s hard to see how such conduct by a President would result on balance in more beneficial consequences than negative ones.

Indeed, it’s already pretty clear that the move was foolish for the President, and that acceding to it was unwise on Netanyahu’s part. Domestically, it looks like mere pettiness against “The Squad”and two of its members who have attacked him with vulgar insults like “motherfucker” and called for his impeachment. (President Trump is nothing if not petty.) Since the two women are “of color,” this also gives the media and the race-baiters a metaphorical stick to beat him with, implying that his move was motivated by racism. That’s nonsense, as it should be obvious by now that President Trump’s pettiness and vindictive instincts are color-blind, but as sure as the Lord made little green apples, the New York Times wrote this morning,

“…he demonstrated the lengths that he will go to to target his domestic opponents, in this case two of the congresswomen of color he has sought to make the face of the Democratic Party heading into his re-election campaign.”

Trump’s intervention into Israel’s decision has other negative consequences too. I’m sure it will be cited as another justification for impeachment by Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff. It is one more example of the President punching down, and punching down at two women, which is likely to attract sympathy for these generally unsympathetic foes. The move also gave ammunition to Netanyahu’s opponents, who now are accusing the Prime Minister, who faces an election soon, of being Trump’s lapdog.

In short, breaching this norm was unnecessary, reckless, stupid, incompetent and irresponsible. Unethical.

There are some mitigating factors to consider, however.

  • I have no doubt whatsoever that many U.S. Presidents have persuaded foreign allies to take actions with beneficial political effects in the U.S.

Those Presidents were just smart enough or devious enough to cover their tracks.

  • Does this mean that Trump deserves credit for being transparent about using an ally against his domestic critics? He tweeted that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” making his exhortation to Israel as public as possible.

I’m thinking, I’m thinking…

  • In a statement,  Netanyahu defended his decision, saying, “As a free and vibrant democracy. Israel is open to critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for, and work to impose, boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prevent the entry of people believed to be damaging to the country.”

In fact, there is such a law, and has been since 2017. It is aimed at outspoken supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement , which encourages individuals and institutions tto pressure Israel to end the occupation of much of the West Bank, grant full equality to Palestinian citizens of Israel and allow Palestinians and their descendants to return to the homes from which they were displaced after the establishment of Israel in 1948. Both Tlaib and Omar are such outspoken anti-Israel advocates.

So why did the President have to encourage Israel to enforce its own law?

UPDATE: Now Rep. Tlaib has announced that she won’t visit her grandmother, writing,

“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter – reflecting just how undemocratic and afraid they are of the truth my trip would reveal about what is happening in the State of Israel and to Palestinians living under occupation with United States support.”

27 thoughts on “Now THAT’S A Norm Presidents Shouldn’t Mess With…

  1. I am not sure on this one. Having the US send two hostile and dishonest government representatives to make political problems to a allied country seems to be something the President should want to stop. The ethical and open way to do so seems untenable in a nonpartisan way without Democratic Party support. Polosi obviously doesn’t have the moral courage to protect our nation’s interest instead of her parties.

  2. Trump was clearly unethical in both his tweet and having his administration contact Israel. How many times have we said that he should have kept his big mouth shut. Yes I’m aware that he’s unable to keep his big mouth shut, the voters knew that when they voted for him and they got exactly what they voted for, a petty man that has no couth.

    Israel has every right to keep anyone out of their country for whatever reason they see fit, yes even representatives of the United States Congress, it’s their sovereign right.

  3. I’m not so sure the “punching down” metaphor carries much weight any more. With The Squad and their ilk being lionized and elevated by the left and the media 24/7, where is down? I think Trump is smart to go toe to toe with these sorts. I think voters find it admirable.

  4. So she’s mad because she can’t bash Israel while on a so-called humanitarian trip? I think I would lay aside my opinions for one trip if it meant seeing a 90-year old dear one. The fact that she won’t do that speaks volumes.

  5. Jack this was a setup and Trump stepped in it because of THE MASSIVE DOUBLE STANDARD OF female and people of color privilege. Female privilege demands women to be treated equally in all respects but then claim to be victimized by the cruel man when they are treated like any man is. People of color privilege is that which allows a POC to paint a non-POC person who fails to submit to their will as a racist. This is the exploitation of white guilt syndrome in progressive or liberal white society. They are extending this concept to get those that feel no guilt to share the costs of their collective guilt.

    Neither were part of the official delegation and their trip, as I have been told was sponsored by a pro- Palestinan group. Their itinerary showed the two were not going to meet with Isreali officials and after given permission to enter it became obvious she had no plans to visit her grandmother but merely used her as a metaphorical human shield. The media interviewed her uncle who criticised the decision “not to let her back into HER country”. So which country does she represent? It was she who wrote the letter asking for a humanitarian exception and it was granted. She then turns around and says they forced her to sign a document.

    I agree that lobbying an ally to snub a member of Congress os a golden rule violation but every petty political attack is as well. As long as we permit the double standard of female and POC privilege this type of crap will continue.

    Omar, Thalib, AOC and Pressly are simply manipulators seeking power. They are hardly victims as they are usually instigating issues that give them an opportunity to beat all white males into submission using the clubs we allow them to use.

    • Interesting take on this Chris. I agree with most of what you write, especially that this was a setup. For me, it’s an unforced error by Trump. Jack’s analysis is correct. Though, I add the following:

      Last week, a bi-partisan Congressional delegation went to Israel on a trip sponsored by AIPAC. However, Reps. Tlaib and Omar did not attend. Why? (I am still looking to see if they were invitedv- it was organized by Stenny Hoyer so I imagine he invited them.) So, Reps. Omar and Tlaib decided to go on their trip, possibly sponsored by pro-Palestinian groups to support the BDS movement and to criticize Israel. Netanyahu withdrew the visas, presumably on Trump’s insistence and both have egg on their faces.

      Trump’s actions were impolitical and unnecessary. Netanyahu would likely have imposed restrictions on them without Trump’s interference anyway so why comment? But, that’s Trump. He doesn’t mind stirring up the proverbial pot, again making the Democrat party come to the defense of these reprehensible members of Congress. Trump probably miscalculated the response but he figured he would take a shot.

      The Democrat party is moving ever farther to the Left with each passing day. For instance, there is video of Sen. Warren having a photo op with two self-styled American Jews who called on her to stand up for the Palestinians, and she tried to be noncommittal but it just looked awkward. The rest of the people running for the Democrat presidential candidate can’t wait to out liberal the next. It’s not Trump forcing the “Squad” to be face of the DNC, but their own actions.


      • I agree JVB.

        I believe a better tactic would have been for Trump to let Bibi decline their visa request and then weigh in by saying had they gone with the delegation there would have been no problem but they created the problem by trying use their Congressional standing to circumvent Isreali law to advance policies that are inconsistent with U.S. policy.

  6. Jack this was a setup and Trump stepped in it because of THE MASSIVE DOUBLE STANDARD OF female and people of color privilege.


    • Rich.
      This trip was orchestrated to inflict political harm on Trump and/or Isreal.
      This trip was separate from the Congressional delegation that recently traveled to Africa and the middle East.

      Both Omar and Thalib knew about the law forbidding entry of those pushing BDS. They attempted to use their Congressional status to gain entry where they knew they would need an exception to the law. No matter what Isreal had done they would use the act to reinforce their anti-Isreal stance. Trump’s intervention could be reasonably foreseen and they played him.

      Neither of these Congresswoman are honest brokers of anything. They are not victims. They are using their gender and ethnicity to exploit our weaknesses for ensuring that no minorities feelings are hurt.

  7. Do you ever think the Times would write
    Obama has shown the depths he will go to target his domestic opponents, in this case a white businessman who dares to ascend to the presidency.

    The Times need to reference the ethnoracial and gender characteristics illustrates the bigotry of the left.

    When whites do this it’s racism. The Times writer wrote the opposite equivalent of “how dare a black man think he can do that”.

  8. Indeed, it’s already pretty clear that the move was foolish for the President, and that acceding to it was unwise on Netanyahu’s part.

    Foolish for the President? Definitely. I doubt Netanyahu needed his help or encouragement, and it makes Trump look bad and Netanyahu look like his puppet.

    But it was not unwise for Netanyahu to dis-invite the two BDS supporters for several reasons:

    1. They were transparently there to make mischief for the government, and to support both an internal conflict and an attempt to broaden the appeal of BDS in the Middle East and Europe.

    2. Democratic governments have routinely denied admittance to troublemakers, even ones who weren’t going there to make trouble.

    3. Permitting these women to come after they expressed interest only in a place called “Palestine,” a place which does not currently exist. They were clearly disinterested in hearing both sides of the issue, and their agenda was designed to spark protests and increase the likelihood of violence.

    Having said all that, there is a price to be paid for making them persona non grata. That price is a charge by the US media, and a worldwide perception, that Israel is not as free as they claim to be. I think it’s unfair, but it’s at least debatable given the facts, especially if you are inclined to dislike the Jewish state.

    The question is, was the payoff worth the price? I would say yes, but that’s certainly rebuttable.

  9. Yeah, the President was overdoing it to make a big deal of it. But,

    my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter

    shows something very different to me. Apparently, her love and respect for her grandmother is so weak that she cannot just visit her in her last days. The rabble-rousing is so much MORE important to the Congrescritter than her family.

    That is pathetic. I feel sorry for her grandmother, that her rich and successful granddaughter will not make the time to visit HER. Funny, I thought family and family respect was big in Islam.

  10. The Times could be using anonymous source for no good. Why would Netanyahu find himself in a ‘lose lose’ position if his country’s laws are already in place to bar entry? Katie Pavlich’s article inTownhall makes sense. It was a setup.

  11. Thanks for this refreshing take on a multi-faceted issue, Jack. I agree as to President’s Trump’s actions. But this whole story, while not necessarily ethically complex, has rent many whose opinions I respect within my Jewish community–politically, emotionally, and historically complex for the American Jews.
    A good topic for a novel by the late, lamented Philip Roth. And for High Holiday sermons from rabbis and pulpits of all stripes.

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