Amendment 27 to the Entry Into Israel Law, enacted March 6, 2017, prohibits any foreigner who calls for a boycott of Israel from entering the Jewish state. In the two and a half years since, the amended law has been used several times to bar BDS supporters, including activists and several European and African politicians, from coming to Israel. Last week, two more prominent names were added to that list when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his country would not allow American Democratic lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to visit.
In theory, the law worked as it should have. Except for one big problem: back in July, Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer announced that Omar and Tlaib would be allowed to enter Israel. “Out of respect for the U.S. Congress, and the great alliance between Israel and America,” Dermer said, “we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel.” Whether the ambassador went rogue, as Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz has publicly hypothesized, or he was simply stating the prime minister’s position at the time, as Netanyahu maintains, the rest of the story hinges on that public pronouncement.
By now, you likely know what happened next: last Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, “It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit.” Soon after, Israel announced it had reversed its position. What followed was an avalanche of bad press and myriad public scoldings from politicians. American Jewish organizations were almost entirely unified in protest of the Israeli decision. (See pages 19 and 20)
It hardly matters whether Netanyahu changed his mind solely because of Trump or if the decision was based, as the government has claimed, upon further review of Omar and Tlaib’s planned trip. Yes, their itinerary, beginning with its stated destination of “Palestine,” featured meetings with odious individuals and groups. (It is less clear whether the trip was to include any meetings with Knesset officials or Israeli politicians.) Without doubt, the pair would have taken every opportunity to vilify the Jewish state.
But surely Israeli leaders could have predicted all that ahead of time. Now, after saying yes and then saying no, they look like they’ve got something to hide.
It’s interesting to imagine what Omar and Tlaib would have encountered had Israel not committed this political own goal. There would have been no way for them to ignore, on their vaunted trip to Bethlehem, the car ramming terror attack committed by one of its residents against two Israel teenage siblings last Friday. Perhaps they would have simply brushed that aside, as so many do in criticizing Israel. But it would have been far more difficult to brush off the Palestinian Authority police’s recent decision to ban al-Qaws, a Palestinian LGBT group, from organizing in the West Bank because its activities “go against and infringe upon the higher principles and values of Palestinian society.” That one might have been tougher for the two Democrats to explain away.
Alas, we’ll never know. Instead, Omar and Tlaib are loaded with fresh ammunition in their continued heckling of Israel, conveniently free of having to account for the reality on the ground. What a missed opportunity.