The new rules of engagement: who’s welcome and who isn’t

At some point I must have nodded off, because I awoke to news that Israel had denied entry to two US Congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who just happen to be the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

“Optics, shmoptrics,” I heard someone in Jerusalem say. “Who cares how it looks?” Well, boys, it don’t look good. More than once I’ve asked myself who does Israel’s PR, and what do they think the ‘R’ stands for?

You know it’s bad when senior Democrat and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who couldn’t be more pro-Israel if he tried, blasts the Jewish state for the “weakness” of its decision. Yet President Trump had earlier said it would show “great weakness” if Omar and Tlaib were allowed in. It seems Trump won by an adjective.

Tlaib has since been allowed in, on compassionate grounds, but why ban them in the first place? In my possibly naïve book, you need to do something really quite bad to be barred from entering a country. Murdered someone, perhaps, or threatened to bomb something. Nope. These two top American female Muslim Representatives, who support the Palestinians and criticise Trump, think people should be free to choose not to buy products from Israel.

Did Israel shrug and plead the First (free speech)? Did Israel suggest that Omar and Tlaib come but have their views challenged in a Q&A? No. Instead, Mr Netanyahu overrode his US ambassador and padlocked the gate himself, saying the pair were “a danger” because they would “foment”. What they would foment I know not, but if you look up the word “foment” in the Cambridge Dictionary, the two examples it gives are “fomenting racial tension” and “fomenting revolution”.

Good old Bibi, always calls a spade a tyrannical tool for the destabilisation and delegitimisation of soil.

For Netanyahu and Trump, who both have elections coming up and core supporters to appease, the ban makes sense. When ‘who you are’ just ain’t all that, ‘who you’re not’ is a lot easier to define, which is great, because enemies are cheaper than chips these days, and a bad precedent is always better than an unabated voter base.

At this point I remembered why I’d struggled to sleep the night before. I’d been thinking about 1 September, when a pro-Israel legal group in London will host an Israeli outfit called Regavim that uses lawfare to remove Palestinian-owned property in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In its spare time, it campaigns for Israel’s Supreme Court to be stripped of its veto. It was founded, and until recently run, by a proud homophobe who calls gay Jews “beasts”. It appears – both on the face of it and on closer inspection – not exactly the sort of group most would want here.

Not so, apparently, because when I pointed out the potential issues, the host legal group gave an e-shrug and pleaded the First. When I asked others, and ask many others I did, only Yachad, New Israel Fund and the Jewish Labour Movement were peeved at the pending appearance.

“Maybe it’s just not that much of a thing,” I thought. After all, we’ve had unsavoury characters here before, and they can always have their views challenged in the Q&A. But still, something didn’t feel right. It’s the invite, you see. It confers legitimacy.

What was really bothering me? Was it that they were being hosted despite everyone knowing what they stood for? Was it that no-one lifted a typing finger despite their intent being to turf Palestinians out of the West Bank? Or was it the idea that Regavim probably wouldn’t have got through the door a few years ago and been branded ‘beyond the pale’? Probably all of the above.

At some point I must have nodded off, because I awoke to Omar, Tlaib, and the dawning realisation that those intent on bulldozing both Palestinian homes and the Israeli constitution were UK-bound, while elected US representatives who have an issue with that were very much grounded.

Who needs sleep and the surrealism of dreams when you have today’s waking reality of who’s good and who isn’t.

About the Author
Stephen Oryszczuk is the Jewish News Foreign Editor
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