It appears that the most important news topic in the entire world is Israel’s decision to bar Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel. Just about everyone has already opined on the matter, and just when it appeared that another voice would be unnecessary, enough respected individuals and institutions arrived at questionable conclusions to inspire this piece.
Those who suggest that the situation was clear cut in either direction, misunderstand the issue or are being disingenuous. Israel was in a difficult public relations situation no matter what it opted to do, and that was exactly what the duo wanted. Israel would be chastised if it forbade entry to Omar and Tlaib, and if it allowed them entry, Omar and Tlaib would have likely misrepresented the situation to further their anti-Israel crusade while claiming witness status. As a result, Israel engaged in risk mitigation to choose the least damaging course of action.
Initially, Israel correctly determined that the proper decision was to take the high road and allow Omar and Tlaib entry. This was of course subject to how the situation continued to play out. As the date of arrival got closer and their itinerary became known, the anti-Israel agenda of the duo became clear. Additionally, Omar and Tlaib planned a visit to the Temple Mount, where the two provocateurs could incite and cause damage far beyond public relations. Hence, as more information became available, it became clear that the risk calculus had changed and the safer option was now to bar entry.
The more naïve suggest that allowing Omar and Tlaib to visit would show them Middle East’s premier democracy up close and possibly make them less hostile like many before them. This argument carries little water and should have been put to rest when the trip itinerary became public, as the two were clearly not going to Israel to learn about the country, but rather to provoke and raise their status as anti-Israel activists.
Another common perception is that Israel broke its original promise and barred Omar and Tlaib from entry due to a tweet from President Trump. Thus, proponents of this theory suggest, Donald Trump, who has had his share of controversy with the duo, was able to dictate Israel’s policy with one tweet, and this in turn showed Israel’s weakness and inability to refuse a “petulant” president.
Naturally, in a political sense, Israel is interested in placating the head of a friendly American administration. However, while President Trump’s wishes were certainly a factor in Israeli government’s decision making, they were likely only one factor, and not a major one at that. As noted above, Israel had to manage the situation within the available risk spectrum.
In fact, far from showing weakness, Israel barred Omar and Tlaib from entry from the position of a strong and proud nation. A sovereign nation has a right and even a duty to control who enters its borders. Regardless of the close relationship between nations, Israel is fully entitled to affirm its sovereignty.
Another argument launched at Israel concerns freedom of movement. And while some decisions to bar foreign nationals from entry may appear questionable, this is not such an instance. Omar and Tlaib openly support the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) that has a clear declared goal of destroying Israel. While open border advocates call for freedom of movement, they tend to ignore the right of those within the borders to live free from harm. If a would-be visitor has a known goal to damage the host nation, the open border crowd would turn this nation and its citizens into hostages of the nation’s own liberalism. Thus, while freedom of movement is highly desirable, it should be clear that the spirit of the policy is far more important that the letter, and a liberal democracy is fully entitled to bar entry to malicious actors.
In the past few days, the media has widely misrepresented BDS, with many sources claiming that BDS is just a vehicle for human rights. It should be clear to anyone who has read the movement’s demands and has observed its tactics that this is not the case. The organization uses politically palatable language to pursue its objective of destroying Israel. Furthermore, BDS’s tactics of intimidation were on full display when Lionel Messi received threats that resulted in a cancelation of a friendly match between Argentina and Israel in 2018. Exposing BDS does a masterful job of illustrating what BDS is really about.
Just as the media has misrepresented BDS, it has also misrepresented Omar and Tlaib vis-à-vis Israel by calling them critics, as if suggesting that there is validity to their position and that they merely object to Israel’s policies. Omar and Tlaib are far from critics, they are hateful activists who support a destructive movement and have voiced gripes against Israel that are not legitimate criticisms, but rather antisemitic tropes and lies.
Numerous members of the Democratic party displayed outrage over Israel’s decision. Even though most of the party is well aware that Israel’s actions are justified given Omar and Tlaib’s support for Israel’s destruction, the party members chose to feign ignorance over the duo’s record and pretended that Israel’s decision is an affront. In doing so and failing to hold Omar and Tlaib responsible for their actions, the party showed its moral weakness. If the party were being honest, it would recognize that Israel’s initial permission turned to refusal due to Omar and Tlaib’s own actions. Rather than display contrived outrage at Israel, the Democratic party should be ashamed that it is being represented by the likes of Omar and Tlaib and that it failed to duly denounce Omar for her earlier antisemitic rhetoric.
Israel’s gambit became complete when it proceeded to offer Tlaib entry on humanitarian grounds to see her 90-year old grandmother and Tlaib turned it down. Tlaib who had earlier written a letter to Israel’s Interior Minister to request permission to enter Israel to visit her grandmother and promised that she would not engage in boycott activity, angrily turned down Israel’s approval and accused it of “oppression.” Tlaib decided to forego the opportunity to see her grandmother “potentially for the last time,” even though Tlaib’s uncle said that the grandmother is like a second mother to Rashida. Interestingly, despite the alleged closeness with her grandmother, Tlaib, per the same uncle, had not visited her since 2006. All of this showed that Tlaib was more interested in a provocation than anything else.
Despite being put in a difficult situation, Israel performed admirably, as it managed to assert its sovereignty and set an important precedent by showing that it can maintain self-respect even in the face of a powerful ally and by managing to expose Tlaib for the hateful anti-Israel provocateur that she is. And while the Democrats did vote overwhelmingly to condemn BDS just a few weeks ago, as a close ally, Israel is fully entitled to expect more respect for its sovereignty.