Don’t Let Ilhan Omar into Israel: A Response to the JPost Editorial Board

On July 20, 2019, the JPOST Editorial Board published a piece in The Jerusalem Post titled “Don’t bar Omar.”  The essence of the editorial is that Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the Representative for Minnesota’s 5th congressional district, should be allowed to enter the State of Israel, after Rep. Omar announced that she planned on visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories next month. The JPOST editorial board argues that Israel should allow Ilhan Omar into the country because Israel — as a democracy — has nothing to hide, and that visiting Israel may even give her (though they admit it is unlikely) an understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israeli’s diversity.

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There are a few problems with this. First, a country preventing a non-national from entering does not make the country undemocratic. Countries reserve the right to determine which non-citizen nationals can enter their territory. For example, the United States – the country in which Ilhan Omar serves as a Congresswoman in, bars admission to non-citizens who are members of the Communist Party in their country. Section 212(a)(3)(D) of the United States Immigration and Nationality Act (“INA”) states that “[a]ny immigrant who is or has been a member of or affiliated with the Communist or any other totalitarian party (or subdivision or affiliate thereof), domestic or foreign, is inadmissible.” While there are exceptions and waivers available for this type of inadmissibility, the United States has long barred non-citizens — who views are contrary to United States values — from entering the country. Similarly, the United States has also barred foreign officials from entering the country by passing a law titled the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, which banned foreign officials (like then-Chief Minister of Gujarat and now Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi), by making them ineligible to obtain a U.S. visa, if they were accused of severely violating religious freedom in their own country. The United States has a long history of banning non-citizens based on their political affiliation as well as barring foreign officials. No one has alleged that the United States is non-democratic because of this, or that the United States has something to hide from communist party members, because of these restrictions.

Similarly, Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to determine who can enter the country. There are Israeli laws in place that prevent non-citizens who support the Boycott, Divest, Sanction (“BDS”) movement – like Rep. Omar —  from entering the country. The BDS movement is premised on the fact that Israel and anything Israeli be isolated and boycotted due to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As the BDS movement includes an academic boycott of Israel and restricts academic dialogue from Israeli academics and institutions, the BDS movement is inherently anti-democratic itself. Representative Omar has supported the BDS movement openly and has even introduced a bill in the United States House of Representatives recently that promotes the BDS movement in the United States. Israel, as a country, has the right to deny entry to any non-citizen who is attacking it. The people who would call the move to bar Rep. Omar anti-democratic, probably already considers Israel to be an undemocratic country. Israel has the right to boycott the people who choose to boycott Israel.

Second, although the JPOST article states that it is unlikely, the very proposition that Rep. Omar might be enlightened after visiting Israel or understand the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even if those chances are extremely remote is preposterous. Rep. Omar’s record shows that she is openly anti-Israel, and I would go far as saying that I think that she is an anti-Semite. Whether it was her recent anti-Semitic comments on Jewish power and money (“the Benjamins, baby”), or whether it was her statements from before she got elected such as: “Israel has hypnotized the world; may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,” her record shows that there is nothing good can come from this visit.

Instead of giving her an “understanding”, an Ilhan Omar visit to Israel would likely give her a platform to criticize Israel — from Israel — to an American electorate that is not familiar with the complexities of the region, and that is slowly being more anti-Israel. When she criticizes Israel, no one will say “at least Israel allowed her to enter the country.” That fact will be forgotten.

Instead of giving her an “understanding,” what we can expect to see from an Ilhan Omar visit is that she cheapens the Holocaust after visiting Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial, by drawing comparisons to the condition of the Palestinians or the migrants at ICE Detention facilities at the United States-Mexico border.

What we can expect her to do is snub officials from the Israeli government or spar with the government publicly, and instead give spotlight to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It is not hard to imagine seeing Omar agreeing with President Abbas as he publicly criticizes President Trump, the United States’ recognition and embassy move to Jerusalem, or the proposed peace plan.

What we can expect Ilhan Omar to do is to not highlight the fact that the Palestinian Authority provides a monthly salary to terrorists who have attacked Israeli civilians, or that the PA regularly incites violence against Israelis. Rather, we can expect her to focus solely on settlement building.

What we can expect from Ilhan Omar is that she will visit a refugee camp like the one in Jenin, rather than also show the world the majestic new Palestinian city of Rawabi (Google pictures of Rawabi – you’ll be amazed).

What we can expect from Ilhan Omar is that she would call Prime Minister Netanyahu corrupt an illegitimate, without also noting the fact that President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority is currently in his 14th year — of his 4 year Presidential term.

What we can expect Ilhan Omar to do is show the separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank or Gaza, without also show the terror tunnels that run from Gaza into Israel.

What we can expect Ilhan Omar to do is call Jerusalem occupied from the Western Wall, without noting that it is only under Israeli control that all three Abrahamic faiths enjoy the right to freely practice their faith; and that while Muslims can  freely pray at the Temple Mount (to an extent where non-Muslim prayer is prohibited and visits are extremely restricted), when Jerusalem was occupied by Kingdom of Jordan from 1948-1967, Jews were prohibited from entering the Old City, let alone praying at the Western Wall.

Israel would be giving one of Israel’s most powerful and visible critics a platform to slander Israel. Israel would be giving Rep. Omar the ability to come back to the United States and say that “she visited Israel and thus understands the issues on the ground”, giving her the ability to distort and completely fabricate what she saw — to an American electorate who is mostly uniformed or misinformed about the complexities and realities on the ground.

The JPOST editorial is right about one thing: as an American and as a Member of Congress, she has the right to express her opinion. But she can easily continue her anti-Israel and “accidental” or “misinformed” anti-Semitic statements in the United States.

About the Author
Ameya Pendse is a graduate of Seton Hall University in New Jersey with a Juris Doctor (J.D.) in Law and a Master of Arts in Diplomacy and International Relations. He has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from McGill University in Political Science and History.
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