Pundits and politicians are aglow with outrage: Last week Israel banned US Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering Israel for purposes of creating a media blitz of anti-Israel propaganda.
In response, former Vice President Joe Biden tweeted:
I have always been a stalwart supporter of Israel—a vital partner that shares our democratic values. No democracy should deny entry to visitors based on the content of their ideas—even ideas they strongly object to. And no leader of the free world should encourage them to do so.
Biden must have had a memory lapse. In 2012, under his own Obama-Biden administration, the US banned Michael Ben Ari, a member of the Israeli Knesset, from entering the country. In a rational world this would be called hypocrisy.
Why was Ben Ari banned? He was a member of a political party that had a history of anti-Arab rhetoric.
But Ben Ari’s rhetoric was no worse than that of both Tlaib and Omar. Both have repeatedly voiced outrageous and false accusations that Israel is a serial abuser of human rights and an apartheid state. Tlaib opposes the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Several years before entering Congress, Omar tweeted that Israel has blinded the world to its “evil ways,” and recently she accused US Jews of bribing members of Congress with cash.
It is true that Tlaib and Omar are not just any visitors. They are elected representatives of a government that has provided billions of dollars of military aid to Israel. Tlaib and Omar have fairly pointed out that they have a right to oversee how that money is spent. But if that were their true purpose, why didn’t they join the delegation of 72 other House members who traveled to Israel on a fact-finding tour the week prior to Tlaib and Omar’s planned visit?
Why did they have to conduct a separate tour, sponsored and funded by a Palestinian group that includes leaders who have voiced support for terrorism? Why did they arrange meetings only with groups critical of Israeli policies? Why did they limit their planned itinerary to the territories? And why did they submit a request to the Israeli government to enter “Palestine” rather than Israel?
The Usual Made Unusual
Good arguments can be made in favor of and against Israel’s decision to ban Tlaib and Omar. But what rankles is the bias in media coverage of the ban. The mainstream US press has portrayed Israel’s ban as unusual. The chorus of Israel-haters has followed along, decrying the ban as an unprecedented offense against free speech. The reality is different.
In recent years, numerous countries have banned a great number of individuals for their political views and activities. The US has been a leader in this regard.
According to Wikipedia, over the past few years the US has banned no less than 29 individuals. The reasons for these bans are wide-ranging—-from alleged criminal activity, to fraud, and unpopular political views.
The banned list includes luminaries such as Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa; Gerry Adams, Irish Republican leader; Cat Stevens, Boy George and Amy Winehouse, entertainers; Nigella Lawson, British chef personality; Hortensia Bussi de Allende, widow of the assassinated president of Chile; Narendra Modi, current prime minister of India; Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; and Kurt Waldheim, former Secretary-General of the United Nations.
Is the US the only democracy that bans entry to targeted individuals? Hardly.
According to Wikipedia, Great Britain has at some point banned at least 75 persons from entry into their country. The banned list has included Michael Savage, conservative radio personality and author; Chris Brown and Moses Michael Levi Barrow, black singers; Louis Farrakhan, Nation of Islam leader; Moshe Feiglin, Israeli politician and activist; Robert Mugabe, former Zimbabwe Prime Minister; Samson Obama, half-brother of former US President Barack Obama; Robert Bruce Spencer, best-selling US author; Edward Snowden, US whistleblower; Martha Stewart, US businesswoman and television personality; Mike Tyson, American boxer; and Julian Assange, investigative journalist and founder of Wikileaks.
What’s it Really All About?
Tlaib and Omar have claimed that by barring them from Israel, the Israeli government is attempting to silence them. This is preposterous. Israel has only 0.11% of the world’s population. Tlaib and Omar are thus free to conduct their propaganda campaign in the remaining 99.89% of the world—at least in those countries that would permit them to do so. I am sure that Muslim countries around the world would be eager to host these two anti-Semitic and anti-Israel ideologues.
Tlaib and Omar are also free to spread their message in Israel through social media, teleconferences and other means that do not require a physical presence. That is because Israel is a democracy in which free and open debate is protected. It is highly unlikely that any Arab or Muslim country would permit those who oppose the government to have a voice in person or in the media.
If Tlaib and Omar are concerned about the free speech rights of Palestinians, why have they not said a word about political repression in the areas under Palestinian Authority and Hamas rule? Neither Palestinian government allows a free press or free expression. For example, both Palestinian governments—-the Palestinian Authority and Hamas—-prohibit criticism of the government and both have used brutal police attacks against street demonstrators. Both the PA and Hamas have banned national elections for many years.
While Arabs in Israel and the territories are prospering, Tlaib and Omar have remained silent about the severe discrimination against Palestinians in Arab countries, and the mass killings of Palestinian civilians in Syria. To date, almost 4,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Syrian civil war.
There is a reason for Tlaib and Omar’s silence about the true source of anti-Palestinian repression: Their goal is not to secure Palestinian rights. It is to put an end to Israel as a Jewish state. Ironically, that would subject 1.9 million Arab Israelis—-who currently have free speech rights—-to the free speech restrictions of the PA and Hamas.
Tlaib and Omar are no friends of Israel. But neither are they friends of freedom-loving Palestinians—-or freedom-loving people anywhere.