Israeli officials have decided to block U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering their country, a reversal of policy that President Donald Trump seems to have prompted.
Should Israel have taken the high road and given two enemies of Israel visas for this propaganda visit? Probably. It usually does. Allowing foes to enter the country reflects the strong liberal values that make Israel a special place in Middle East.
However, the idea that impeding two anti-Semites and Hamas apologists from entering Israel is an attack on democracy, or the United States, or that such a move is accelerating the corrosion of the Democratic Party’s support for Israel, is absurd.
Sen. Bernie Sanders contends that Israel is showing “enormous disrespect to these elected leaders, to the United States Congress, and to the principles of democracy.”
What principle of democracy states that you have to issue visas for illiberal bigots who actively engage in efforts to harm your citizens? If Republican Steve King were denied an entry visa into Mexico, not a single congressperson would stand up for him, not a single presidential candidate would claim that Mexico had insulted the honor of the United States, not a single Democrat would argue that it reflected poorly on Mexican democracy, and not a single liberal pundit would contend that the Mexican-U.S. relationship was being hurt.
How many Democrats were insulted when the speaker of the British House of Commons told the elected president of the United States he was not welcome to address them? Would any sane person claim Britain was stifling debate by doing so?
Would any American be bothered if the State Department denied an entry visa to a foreign elected official who actively worked toward the economic destruction of the United States while being an apologist for al-Qaeda or some other anti-American terrorist group? (Well, maybe a few.)
Not even we believe people are entitled to visit simply because they demand it.
In 2012, the Obama administration denied a visa to Michael Ben-Ari, a member of the hard-right Israeli Kach party. Ben-Ari is no worse than Tlaib or Omar. I don’t remember widespread angst about the state of American democracy breaking out. Surely we were secure enough in our beliefs to handle his presence, right?
And when the U.S. government refused to give Narendra Modi — now the prime minister of India, but at the time the chief elected official in the state of Gujarat — a visa, no one seemed to think we were slapping India in the face. We relied on a 1998 law that stated foreign officials who exhibit “severe violations of religious freedom” were ineligible for visas.
This, of course, was a way to placate Muslim concerns about Modi’s Hindu nationalism. Considering every Islamic-majority leader who’s ever visited the White House has severely violated religious freedoms — in most cases, banning the worship of other faiths completely — it was somewhat ironic.
Modi’s disposition toward the United States was, and is, relatively friendly. But the Bush and Obama administrations argued the Modi ban was merely a function of the law. Israeli law is pretty clear, as well. The Knesset passed a bill in 2017 that forbids granting entry visas or residency rights to any foreign nationals who call for economic, cultural, or academic boycotts of Israel.
It needs to be stressed that Tlaib and Omar aren’t mere “critics” of Israel, as the media incessantly claims. Critics of Israel find fault with policies of the nation’s government — which, in Israel’s case, has oscillated from left to right, from hawkish to dovish, for more than 70 years. Critics have been traveling to Israel forever. Critics of Israel serve in the nation’s Parliament and openly and freely take positions against the ruling government.
Tlaib and Omar actively support a movement with the strategic aim of rallying the world to destroy the Jewish state economically. The boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement (BDS) not only challenges Israel’s right to exist, it relies on age-old antisemitic tropes, conspiracy theories, and blood libels to propel the message. Its most famous champions in the United States are Tlaib and Omar.
Moreover, these congresswomen aren’t merely random pundits prattling on about an imaginary apartheid state. They have power to enact policies that undermine the Jewish state. Omar sits on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It is Tlaib and Omar who are accelerating the Democratic Party’s abandonment of our ally. As we’ve seen, no matter how odious their remarks, no matter how outside the norms of American political discourse they fall, Democrats will rally to defend them.
The two were almost surely planning some provocation. Which is not something elected officials should be doing to allies, either.
It’s been reported that Israeli officials were concerned that Omar and Tlaib would visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. You might recall that Trump canceled a 2015 trip to the Temple Mount (he denies he was going) over Israeli concerns that such a visit would ignite the usual Palestinian violence that occurs when anyone they don’t like visits the holiest site in the Jewish faith.
At first, the duo claimed their trip was meant for outreach and education. If that were so, Tlaib and Omar could have visited Israel with the rest of the U.S. delegation to Israel—a bipartisan trip of over 70 reps that met with both the Israel government and the Palestinian Authority. Instead, their trip to “Palestine” was arranged by the terror-supporting Miftah and the demagogic Hanan Ashrawi. You should see the itinerary.
And if Ashrawi’s name sounds familiar, it’s because not so long ago we denied the Palestinian official a visa to enter the United States. Sometimes you just have to say no.
Our democratic institutions weren’t harmed in any way by denying Ashrawi a visa, either. Nor would it be harmed if we denied a visa to an Israeli politician who was actively working to harm citizens of the United States. Good luck finding one, though.