Omar Questions Whether Israel is an Ally or a Democracy; Says US Aid Must be Linked to Palestinian Issue

By Patrick Goodenough | August 19, 2019 | 7:24pm EDT
Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., hold a news conference on Monday. (Photo by Adam Bettcher/Getty Images)

( – Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Monday questioned whether Israel was a democracy or an ally of the United States, and said Congress should link aid to Israel to its ensuring “full rights for Palestinians.”

She was addressing a press conference in St. Paul, Minn. with Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), talking about the Israeli government’s decision – encouraged by President Trump – to bar them from visiting the country, based on their support for the anti-Israel boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

“We give Israel more than three million [sic] dollars in aid every year,” Omar said. “This is predicated on their being an important ally in the region and” – she made air quotes with her fingers – “the only democracy in the Middle East.”

“But denying a visit to duly-elected members of Congress is not consistent with being an ally, and denying millions of people freedom of movement or expression or self-determination is not consistent with being a democracy,” she continued.

Omar said the U.S. must ask that “the [Binyamin] Netanyahu government stop the expansion of settlements on Palestinian land, and ensure full rights for Palestinians, if we are to give them aid.”

She added that those were not just her own views, but were shared by “a range of experts, peace advocates, on this issue.”

Later, Omar concluded the press conference by pledging to “fight this [Trump] administration, and the oppressive Netanyahu administration, until we take our last breath.”

In reaction, former Democratic Sen. Joe Lieberman, chairman of the advocacy group United Against a Nuclear Iran, told Fox News it would have better if the Israeli government had allowed Omar and Tlaib to visit.

“They would have seen that some of the things that they believe are not true on the ground,” he said. “I mean, Israel is a remarkable democracy.”

“They would have met with Israelis who have a strong disagreement with their government, they would have seen in the hospitals of Israel that there are Israeli Arab doctors, nurses, health professionals and patients – the hospitals are totally open,” Lieberman said.

“And they would have seen that the two million Israeli Arab citizens are citizens, and they are represented by people in the Knesset, in the parliament of Israel, and they participate equally in the debates, their votes are equal. “

Democracy? Ally?

While critics sometimes argue that Israel cannot be both a democracy and a Jewish state, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, according to the Democracy Index, the Economist Intelligence Unit’s annual grading of 167 countries, scored from 0 to 10 based on 60 indicators.

In its most recent index, for 2018, the Democracy Index gives Israel a score of 7.79. The next highest score in the region goes to Tunisia (6.41), but no other country – including important U.S. allies – even reaches the midpoint of 5. Among them, Lebanon (4.63), Iraq (4.06), Jordan (3.93), Egypt (3.36), Qatar (3.19), UAE (2.76), Iran (2.45), Saudi Arabia (1.93), and Syria (1.43).

Israel’s score of 7.79 compares to the 2018 Index scores for the United States (7.96), France (7.80), Britain (8.53) and Germany (8.68).

Freedom House, the Washington-based democracy watchdog, ranks only two countries in the Middle East and North Africa as “free” – Israel and Tunisia.

According to its most recent rankings, based on scores for political rights and civil liberties, only four other countries across the region even merit a “partly free” ranking (Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait and Morocco), while the rest are all graded “not free.”

Omar’s questioning of Israel’s status of an ally flies in the face of decades of close collaboration between the U.S. and Israeli armed forces.

As a diplomatic ally, Israel’s record at the United Nations over many years is unmatched by any country on earth. In the most recent State Department report to Congress on voting patterns at the U.N., covering 2017, Israel’s voting coincided with that of the United States 94 percent of the time, more than any other member-state.

By contrast, for the other major recipients of U.S. aid that year, voting coincidence with the U.S. ranged from a low of just 18 percent (South Africa) to a high of 24 percent (Pakistan).

The full list of the top 12 biggest beneficiaries of U.S. aid, in order of the amount of aid received, and their voting coincidence with the U.S., is as follows: Israel (94 percent), Afghanistan (21 percent), Egypt (21 percent), Ethiopia (21 percent), Iraq (21 percent), Jordan (22 percent), Kenya (20 percent), Nigeria (22 percent), Pakistan (24 percent), South Africa (18 percent), Tanzania (21 percent), and Uganda (21 percent).

Israel has not received U.S. economic aid since fiscal year 2007, but it is the number one recipient of military aid.

For FY 2020, the Trump administration has requested $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) for Israel, and $500 million in missile defense aid.

Under U.S. law, Israel has been obliged to spend at least 73.7 percent of the FMF assistance in the United States. The rest it could spend on equipment from non-U.S. sources, mostly Israeli companies.

That arrangement is being slowly phased out. Under a memorandum of understanding negotiated by the Obama administration in 2016, by FY 2028 Israel will have to spend 100 percent of the FMF funding on U.S.-origin equipment.

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