When Netanyahu blocked visas for Omar and Tlaib, I was appalled and also genuinely confused — because whatever one might say about Bibi, I have never heard anyone say that he was stupid, and this decision just seemed remarkably dumb, a kind of bizarre own-goal. He would have gained so much PR by simply being gracious to these two visitors, regardless of their views. Just a few weeks previous, the movement against BDS had won a major victory, with congressional Democrats embracing the existence of Israel alongside a future Palestinian state. That’s the moderate position that has been gaining steam in recent years. Why would Netanyahu, at a moment when Israel’s liberal allies are gaining momentum, make such a boneheaded decision? Was this just a case where Trump says “jump” and Bibi says “how high?” The congressional measure cast BDS as bigotry, not free speech, and here was Bibi, basically undoing that victory and barring two Members of Congress from entering Israel because of their beliefs? The answer is that Bibi is indeed not stupid, that this was not actually about Omar and Tlaib, nor did it really have anything to do with Trump. The real intent here was to attack American liberal advocates of Israel, a group I am a part of. Bibi doesn’t want us advocating for an eventual Palestinian state, so he used this as an opportunity to put us in a corner. This didn’t backfire on us by accident, it happened on purpose.
The reality is that BDS is bad for Palestinians, bad for Jews, bad for Israel, and bad for democracy. But it’s good for Netanyahu and his narrow vision of an expansionist Jewish homeland. BDS shuts down moderates, and he has everything to gain from their marginalization. He is smart enough to choose his enemies wisely; I can only hope that we are wise enough to resist that.