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Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin Weighs In On Israel's Ban On 2 Freshman Lawmakers


All right, let's get reaction now from Congress. We're joined by House Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland. He just returned from a congressional trip to Israel with dozens of other lawmakers.

Welcome back.

JAMIE RASKIN: Well, thank you so much for having me.

CHANG: So you tweeted today that you think this decision by Israel is, quote, "an unacceptable affront to the U.S. Congress and a betrayal of free speech." Tell me why.

RASKIN: Well, our First Amendment protects freedom of belief and freedom of expression. And it's just outrageous that the president of the United States would urge the leader of any foreign democracy to deny entry to Americans because of their political beliefs, no matter how much he disagrees with them. And, you know, that's doubly true for members of Congress, who have a constitutional duty to engage in fact-finding.

CHANG: But, ultimately, this was Israel's choice. And don't they have a right to make this choice? We just heard Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believed that Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were going to Israel to promote a boycott. There is a law in Israel barring entry to anyone who's doing that.

RASKIN: Well, let's see. The first thing is that they told them that they could come. The ambassador to the United States, Mr. Dermer, told us last month that they would be allowed in. And when the Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and the Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke out strongly in Israel when our trip - when our contingent was over there, it appeared that they were going to be allowed in.

It was only after Donald Trump got involved and said it would somehow be a sign of weakness that both Trump and Netanyahu basically decided to change the subject from political bad news in both cases, with the president - the collapsing of the stock market and his - you know, his trade policy belly-flop to this.

And so we know that, you know, there's a kind of right-wing politics on Earth which is always searching for scapegoats, and that's what they're doing here. But look - the democracies have got to stick together, and that means we have to respect the freedom of speech. And strong democracies are not afraid of dissent and are not afraid of dialogue. And it's...

CHANG: Well, let me ask you. I understand that there were dozens of Democrats and Republicans on this trip to Israel that you were on. All of you met with a wide range of both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. Why couldn't Omar and Tlaib have gone with you?

RASKIN: Well, that trip was sponsored by a foundation that's connected to AIPAC, and AIPAC, to its credit, has spoken out against this attempt to exclude Representatives Tlaib and Omar. There are different trips. There's also J Street, and I've been over on the J Street trip. Look - you know, it's a very tough situation over there, and we need to bring all sides together. And it's not going to be through boycotts and quarantines and censorship, which is why we voted and I strongly advocated for an anti-Boycott Divestment Sanction resolution on July 23, which passed the House overwhelmingly.

But this is exactly the mirror image of that kind of policy, where you pick out certain people and say, we will not deal with you; we're going to draw a line around you. And the U.S. Congress is not going to accept that.

CHANG: Does it concern you that there are members of your caucus who are extremely vocal against Israel? I mean, President Trump's using that to say that your whole party is against Israel.

RASKIN: Well, we passed another resolution denouncing anti-Semitism, denouncing anti-Muslim bigotry, denouncing racism. And these are the authoritarian movements and forces on Earth today which are going to be the gateway to destruction for everything we believe in as liberal democracy.

They've got a right to disagree with Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies. They've got a right to support BDS, which I don't support. And we are not going to quarantine them or boycott them as members of Congress because of the political positions they have. And strong democracies are not afraid of that kind of dissent, and Israel's a strong democracy, and they can certainly absorb two freshman members of Congress coming over and investigating.

CHANG: Well, it's not just Omar and Tlaib. There are growing voices within the Democratic Party who are critical of Israel. Do you think this decision by Netanyahu is going to further discourage Democrats from supporting Israel? Do you have any concern about that?

RASKIN: No, I think that the alliance between Israel and the United States goes back to the beginning, when it was Democrat Harry Truman who recognize Israel eight minutes after its founding, and it's been solid ever since then. But you don't have to be pro-Netanyahu to be pro-Israel any more than you have to be pro-Donald Trump in order to be a patriotic American. And there's an attempt by right-wing politicians to confuse those things.

CHANG: All right. Democrat Jamie Raskin of Maryland, thanks very much.

RASKIN: Delighted to be with you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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