In March 2019, Israeli cybersecurity expert Prof. Adi Shamir of the Weizmann Institute was denied a US visa and was unable to attend a security conference in San Francisco.
In 2018, the Israeli singer Amir Benayoun was invited to sing at the UN International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. Benayoun’s visa request was initially denied when it was publicized that one of the singer’s songs clearly expressed his opposition to the Obama administration.
In 2012, the US government refused to issue an entry visa to Member of Knesset Michael Ben Ari. Ben Ari is indeed on the far-right of Israeli politics and made some controversial statements before, yet back in 2012, he was an elected representative of the State of Israel who was denied entry to the US.
In 2003, Rita, one of Israel’s most famous artists who immigrated to Israel from Iran, was planning a US concert tour when she was notified that her Iranian background was enough for the US government to deny her entry visa.
I can go on with this list, as I personally know many Israelis who were denied entry to the US without any justified reason, but I guess you all get my point.
Yesterday, when I heard that Israel decided to bar Democrat representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting, I could not imagine the masses of American voices that would express opposition to the Israeli government’s decision.
I hate seeing the Trump-Netanyahu relationship negatively affect that between the United States and Israel. There is no justification for an American president using tweets to influence an Israeli government decision, particularly when both countries are guilty of using visas as retaliation against citizens who have expressed controversial political opinions.
I believe in the importance of freedom of speech, and other democratic values as such. Personally, I wouldn’t mind Congresswomen Talib and Omar visiting Israel. If they are willing to come and learn about our region, its beauty and its complexities with their own eyes, we should happily invite them in. After all, Israel has nothing to hide. While that is my personal opinion, Israel’s decision is justifiable.
Yet it’s time to stop the double standard. Israel should not only and always be at fault for government decisions it makes. As every country, it acts in its own defense. Granting visas is only one mechanism of doing so, and the United States’s own government knows this very well.