Israel’s ban of Omar and Tlaib is a grave misstep

Rather than trying to broaden the perspective of Israel’s critics, Netanyahu is pushing them into an evermore radical position.

By Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post | Aug 15, 2019

The decision to exclude them likely will, American Jewish leaders recognize, incite the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and create a further schism with Democrats in Congress. It will continue the process, exacerbated by Trump and Netanyahu, of making support for Israel a partisan issue, something both sides have long tried to avoid.

The Post reports, “Caught between the opposing views of President Trump and Democratic leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed himself on Thursday and decided to prohibit Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from visiting Israel during a trip scheduled to start Sunday.” While the government originally announced it would admit the pair, the call from Trump to exclude American lawmakers, an outrageous and unprecedented step, “immediately opened up a new battle between Netanyahu and Democrats, who had privately warned that such a decision would be unprecedented and inconsistent with Israel’s claims of tolerance and openness.”

The problem arises from a recently passed law that would bar foreign nationals who support any boycott of Israel from receiving entry visas. This in and of itself was an infringement on the Israeli tradition of vigorous public debate, but with elections upcoming in September, Netanyahu is scrambling to ingratiate himself further with the far right. Before Wednesday, however, “Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer said the two congresswomen would be allowed to visit Israel ‘out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.’” So much for that “respect.” (The Israeli embassy did not respond to a request for comment.)

The Post reported that “House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) took the issue up with Israeli officials on Wednesday on behalf of the Democratic leadership, but could not convince the government to let the lawmakers in.” Hoyer is among Israel’s most devoted friends in the U.S. Congress. To rebuff a direct plea from him would be extraordinary.

The ban is a stunning, unprecedented step, one that signals Israel, long a bastion of democracy in the Middle East, cannot tolerate criticism — even from nationals of its closest ally. For Netanyahu it sends the message that he is Trump’s puppet, willing to damage the long-term relationship with the United States to assuage the ego of a president who is in a political tailspin.

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