The hotly debated “Congressional Delegation to the Occupied Territories in Palestine”, organized and championed by controversial freshmen Democrat Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar may be cancelled, and that is the correct decision.
After months of debate, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri has decided to bar the two BDS-supporting congresswomen from entering Israel for what will clearly be a career-boosting opportunity for them, and a total net negative for the Jewish State.
Tlaib and Omar have made their names known among a large cadre of freshmen Democrat Representatives by making noise about Israel, in an almost single-minded fashion. Apart from Tlaib’s advocacy for raising the minimum wage, the average American would be hard-pressed to explain her political platform, because she seems to have none apart from undermining America’s most stalwart Middle Eastern ally. The same can be said for Ilhan Omar, who is more famous for her repeated parroting of antisemitic tropes and for dismissing the 9/11 attacks by referring to it as an incident in which, “some people did something” than for any substantial political platform. In light of their apparent dedication to harming the State of Israel, it would be foolish to allow them in, and beneficial to Israel in the long run to say no.
The main argument in favor of letting them in is the idea that it shows the world that we have nothing to hide. The concern is that if we don’t let them in, they will be able to hold up their ban as evidence of Israel’s alleged misdeeds. That is less damaging than giving them the perceived credibility they will have by being able to claim that they saw Jerusalem, Hebron and “the Settlements” with their own eyes. By barring them, Israel and it’s supporters will be able to claim legitimately that, had they come with an open mind instead of an agenda of attack, they would have been allowed into the country and allowed to travel anywhere they pleased. This point can be supported by the frequency with which US government officials from both sides of the aisle visit Israel.
While supporters of allowing them in claim that to bar them is to give them further ammunition against Israel, given the nature of their present commentary on the country, it is obvious that they have made up their minds already. Any visit to Israel will be used to bolster their credibility when speaking on the subject, whether they are telling the truth or not. They are coming here to fortify an already held position. No matter how dazzling Israel is, or how welcoming we are, they are only interested in confirming their biases, which seems to be supported by reports about the one-sided nature of the trips itinerary. They will not come away with a nuanced view, and they will not be swayed to change their minds, so why let them in and enable their smear campaign.
Israel can come away from this situation looking strong and confident by barring these two representatives. Israel has laws on the books allowing the government to bar those people who have been known to engage in deliberately hostile action against the country. BDS activists and public terror supporters have been barred in the past. Ariel Gold, a leader of Code Pink and Alissa Wise, Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, are among the most well known people denied entry under current Israeli law. There is already a precedent for the denial of known hostile actors, and Israel would be making a strong show of sovereignty by applying the law to sitting US Representatives. The Israeli government will be making an unequivocal statement that a person’s political position is no guarantee of access to the Jewish state.
Concerns about backlash across the broader US government landscape are likely unfounded as well. The current administration does not look favorably upon the conduct of Tlaib and Omar, and President Donald Trump has made it clear that he supports Israel blocking them from entry. The mainstream leadership of the Democratic Party are also unlikely to make waves given the fact that they themselves are divided on the direction the party is going in regards to Israel related policy. Even if the claim is made that Israel is taking partisan sides in US affairs and choosing the Republicans over the Democrats, this can also be rebuffed, as Israel just hosted its largest ever US bipartisan delegation, which included 41 Democrats. The Democrats on the trip met with both Israeli leadership, as well as Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, strengthening any claim by Israel that had Tlaib and Omar come in peace, they would have been afforded any access they wished.
Based on these considerations, Prime Minister Netanyahu would be absolutely correct to approve Aryeh Deri’s decision and bar Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering Israel. The consequences of blocking them are far less significant than the consequences of allowing them in, and when coupled with the benefits of refusing entry the decision should be clear.