Inclusion can be a messy business. Exclusion — people forcibly creating separation between themselves and others whom they believe to be unlike them — is rightfully condemned, because the means to achieve it are never benign. Exclusion is Jim Crow segregation, signs at factory gates reading “No Irish need apply,” anti-Semitic covenants in posh neighborhoods. Exclusion is walls that turn a stone face toward people fleeing poverty and violence; it’s armed guards at checkpoints that people must traverse to reach employment, medical care and food. Exclusion is Nazi concentration camps. It’s Japanese-American internment camps.
Exclusion, though, is becoming impossible in the modern world. Not the bigotry it stems from — that’s alive and (so to speak) well. But at a time when, according to Business Insider, we’re nearing the point (2020) when “almost 75 percent of the global population will be connected by mobile devices;” and when war, poverty, climate change and, more benevolently, social mobility, are impelling millions to move to stable societies elsewhere, exclusion is dying on the vine.
Welcomed by some, despised by others, inclusion is inevitable.
The U.S. House of Representatives just got more inclusive than it has ever been before. The elections of November 2018 brought more women into the House — 102 took their seats on Jan. 3. More ethnicities are represented: Native Americans, African-Americans, Latinos and Latinas, men and women of Asian descent; gender preferences, too, are more out in the open, hopefully forestalling the occasional cloakroom scandals of yesteryear.
And for the first time ever, there are three Muslim members in the House: Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Michigan, and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, joining five-term Rep. André Carson, D-Indiana. It didn’t take long for their addition — their inclusion — to get a bit messy. Tlaib and Omar aren’t shrinking violets: Tlaib, an attorney and former state legislator, took the oath of office wearing a Palestinian gown called a thobe; Omar, also a former state legislator and a nutrition educator, is Somali-American and wore a patterned blue hijab (a head covering).
More important than their attire, however, is their departure from the strongly pro-Israel orthodoxy of the House and Senate. They were outspoken critics of Israel’s policies and conduct, specifically toward its Palestinian neighbors, before being elected to Congress, and they show no intention of backtracking. Omar supports the two-state solution (creation of a sovereign Palestinian nation, which would involve Israel ceding some territory) that has been officially supported by both the U.S. and Israel but ignored in reality. Tlaib, contending that “separate but equal” never works, has said the best resolution might be a single state comprising both Israelis and Palestinians — probably a non-starter as long as Israelis largely conceive of their nation as a biblical homeland, and/or a needed sanctuary, for the Jewish people. (There are Israeli dissenters.)
But what has really put the two freshman lawmakers at odds with establishment Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate is their adamant opposition to military aid for Israel as long as it continues oppressive tactics toward Palestinians, and their support for the B.D.S. movement — Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions — encouraging companies, universities and other entities to isolate Israel economically while those practices are in place.
A growing contingent of legislators, mostly of their generation and mostly Democrats, share those views. But they’re not wearing thobes or hijabs, so the ire and accusations of anti-Semitism, emanating most strongly from Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio, of Florida, have targeted these two. In fairness, their views have been more forcefully pronounced than is common in the halls of Congress, but criticism of Israel in any form has been tepid there at best.
One wonders why. For decades after its founding in 1948, the moral imperative lay strongly with Israel — the horrors of the Holocaust, its isolation amidst nations hostile to its very existence, a fellow democracy. But Israel, more fortified now and secure, has squandered much of that imperative, seemingly doing all it can to stoke rather than quell Palestinians’ resentment (bombing neighborhoods, bulldozing homes, circumscribing their daily existence with walls and checkpoints, building settlements now housing three-quarters of a million Israelis in the West Bank).
Yet the U.S. makes no objection, and in fact exacerbates the situation by moving its embassy to Jerusalem despite the predictable, lethal turmoil it caused, and closing the Palestinian Liberation Office in Washington — policies, from both nations, that mimic the punch line, “The beatings will continue until morale improves!”
Within the House, however, more voices now are heard. Amidst the name-calling, more ideas may blossom. Exclusion hasn’t worked; maybe inclusion will.