By Claude Salhani
US President Donald Trump is making history once again. The American president is blazing a path where no other president has gone before and hopefully no other will want to go in the future.
Indeed, Trump is making history; albeit, the president is making headlines with bad history.
In another “presidential first,” the president of the United States asked a foreign country to refuse entry to two duly elected members of the US Congress. That is unprecedented. Indeed, if the president had a need to make that sort of request from another country’s leader, it should have been in the reverse.
The first question that comes to mind is whether what Trump did is legal? Can the president of the United States place such a request?
Trump asked Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to ban congresswomen Ilhan Omar, a Democrat from Minnesota, and Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, from visiting Israel. The two are among four progressive members of Congress women who refer to themselves as “the Squad.”
The president also said the women should go back to where they came from.
Omar was born in Somalia and immigrated to the United States. Tlaib is of Palestinian origin but was born in the United States. Both women are Muslim.
Is that legally acceptable? Should the president of the United States place such a request to another head of state? The answer is definitely no. Under no circumstance should the president behave in such a manner.
By directing the leader of another country to refuse entry to members of his own Congress, even if he disagrees with them politically, indicates that the president does not recognise or understand the proper political system in his own country, that he is not acting in a manner that reflects the oath he has taken — to defend the Constitution of the United States.
The constitution guarantees the right to free speech. By asking Israel to prevent the congresswomen from travelling to Israel, Trump is advocating censorship by a foreign power on elected members of the US Congress.
Regardless of political affiliations or belief, whether a person is a Republican, a Democrat or independent, they must surely see something terribly wrong with this picture.
This request is so absurd, so counter to everything that the United States stands for. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the US-based, pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse issued a statement saying the two women should be allowed to visit. As a truly democratic state, Israel should have nothing to worry about from the visiting congresswomen.
This is serious. It’s very serious. The president is encouraging a foreign power to prevent a citizen whom he, as president, is obliged to defend.
As president of all Americans, Trump should defend the rights of all Americans, not only in the United States but anywhere in the world. Except that Trump from day one had proven that he is not here to fight for all Americans but rather a fringe who are mostly white and watch Fox News.
Trump is not the president of all Americans. He has clearly demonstrated where he stands politically.
Why did Trump single out these two women? Both have been vociferous about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands and Tlaib, whose grandmother lives in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been supportive of groups calling for the boycott of Israel.
She has called attention to the Israeli military checkpoints throughout the West Bank where Palestinians are dehumanised by soldiers. It’s bad enough that Palestinians must show ID cards at the checkpoints; they are frequently humiliated, forced to wait for hours before being allowed — or not — to reach their destination.
Then there are entire highways where Palestinians are simply not permitted to travel on.
“The only democratic nation in the Middle East,” as Israel likes to refer to itself, is not very democratic when it comes to the Palestinians.
As for Trump, who was impressed by the French military parade on Bastille Day in 2017, there is a saying often attributed to Voltaire but actually written by his biographer, English author Evelyn Beatrice Hall, in 1906 that Trump should adopt: “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
But I would not hold my breath.