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August 27, 2019 4:50 am

Netanyahu Was Right to Ban Members of Congress From Israel

avatar by Arye Mekel


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem February 25, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Gali Tibbon/Pool via Reuters/File Photo.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to bar US Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from entering Israel was sound policy.

Rashida Tlaib is a Democrat from Michigan of Palestinian origin. She is now in her first term in the US House of Representatives. Tlaib has declared that she opposes US aid to “Netanyahu’s Israel” and supports the “right of return” for Palestinians, as well as a one-state solution — the standard Palestinian/Arab euphemisms for Israel’s destruction through demographic subversion. She also backs BDS, which works toward the same ultimate objective.

Ilhan Omar is a Democrat from Minnesota of Somali descent. She is also in her first term in Washington. She often criticizes Israel and the influence of the “Jewish lobby” (AIPAC) on the US. She is also a BDS supporter, and like Tlaib, voted against the recent House resolution that denounced the movement. In February of this year, during a debate about AIPAC, she tweeted, “It’s all about the Benjamins” (a slang term for money). She was castigated for doing so by her own party and by Jewish organizations, which rightly saw the tweet as antisemitic.

The pair referred to their intended trip to Israel as a “delegation to Palestine.” They had planned to tour Palestinian cities in the West Bank, as well as East Jerusalem, and to meet with Palestinian figures and international “human rights organizations.” The trip, which would have been covered intensively by the international media, would have been an anti-Israel circus.

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It was precisely to avoid situations of this kind that the Knesset passed a law more than two years ago prohibiting entry visas for foreign citizens who call for boycotting Israel. These two BDS-supporting Congresswomen certainly fall in that category. But was preventing their entry wise? Many claim its damage exceeded its benefit. But is that the case?

A few weeks ago, the Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, a close confidant of Netanyahu, announced that the two Congresswomen would be granted visas. But pressure from President Trump, who declared that granting them entry to Israel would indicate weakness (the ultimate sin in his world), prompted a reversal.

The accusation now being hurled at Netanyahu is that he harmed Israel’s interests by giving in to Trump. Haaretz commentator Chemi Shalev (who harshly criticized Netanyahu for defying the previous occupant of the White House) even compared the prime minister to a borrower on the grey market whose debts to Trump have grown to the point that he can no longer say no to him.

Indeed, Netanyahu had no choice but to say amen. Israel needs the US president, whomever he may be, and generally accedes to requests from the White House. A notable case was during the Gulf War in 1991, when President George H.W. Bush asked Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir not to respond to 39 missiles that Saddam Hussein had launched at Israel. Although the entire defense establishment, fearing a loss of deterrent power, pushed for a massive response, Shamir opted to go along with the US president’s demand. Israel did not respond.

The reversal in favor of barring the entry of the two US legislators predictably upset some members of the Democratic Party, a factor that was probably taken into account when the decision was made. But the Democratic Congressional leadership is worried about the shift toward the radical left that the “squad” represents (which, in addition to Tlaib and Omar, includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez). The leadership fears that if the party moves along with the squad, it will cost them the White House next year.

Israel’s quarrel with the Democrats will likely be brief — not only because the Democratic leadership is not entirely behind the squad, but because it understands Israel’s need to stay on the good side of the American president. That is how it has always been, and it will remain that way if and when a Democratic president is elected. The recent visit to Israel by 41 Democratic members of the House, most of them newcomers to Washington, was much more indicative of Israel’s relations with the Democratic Party than the visit that did not materialize.

Ambassador Arye Mekel, a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, served as Israel’s envoy to Greece from 2010 to 2014. He was deputy Israeli ambassador to the UN, diplomatic adviser to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, consul general in New York and Atlanta, and spokesman and deputy director general of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

A version of this article was originally published by The BESA Center.

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