Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib Banned from Israel: Good Call from Israel

August 17, 2019
Philip C. Johnson, Ph.D. 

The government of Israel has banned freshman congresswomen, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel. The first Muslim female members of the U.S. House of Representatives had a planned trip to Israel for next week and initially it appeared that they would be allowed to enter Israel. But as of Thursday, August 15th, Israel had decided to ban both women from entering the country. 

The Situation: 

Both women have been accused of controversial tweets and remarks that have been viewed by many as anti-Semitic. Notably, both women also voted against a U.S. congressional resolution that condemns the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel. The BDS movement is a Palestinian-led movement that seeks to increase international pressure to boycott and harm Israel based on the viewpoint that Israel illegally occupies Palestinian territory and denies Palestinian Arabs equal rights. But the movement is deeper than that. As one of the leaders of the BDS movement, Omar Barghouti, has stated, he opposes, “a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.” 

From the Israeli perspective, the movement is designed to deny Israel its legitimacy as a nation by seeking to boycott Israeli goods, divesting from companies that provide essential equipment to Israel’s military and encouraging other countries to impose sanctions on Israel. Under Israeli law, backers of the BDS movement can be denied entry into Israel. A tweet from Prime Minister Netanyahu stated the following: 

“As a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prohibit the entry of people who seek to harm the country.”

My Perspective:

I have worked in Israel many times. I have also often worked in a number of Muslim-majority countries including Egypt, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, to name a few. I think I’ve earned my place at the table of perspectives regarding this issue. Let me break down my thoughts:

1.) I support Israel even though I do not always agree with every decision of the Israeli government. I have visited Israel proper as well as the disputed (not occupied) territory known as the West Bank and have spoken to people and politicians from each side – including the Israeli Knesset, Fatah and Hamas. Rarely does the media convey the situation accurately or fairly. Never does the Arab media describe the situation truthfully. Generally the narrative is biased against Israel.

2.) From the beginning, the planned visit of these two U.S. congresswomen was designed as a political mission with an anti-Israeli bias. The original itinerary for their trip referred to the visit as a visit to “Palestine,” rather than Israel. This is already a political statement. Israeli Prime Minister, Netanyahu remarked,  “Only a few days ago, we received their itinerary for their visit in Israel, which revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.” The reasoning for the ban is clear: If you’re working against the nation of Israel, you’re not exactly welcome to come here and continue to supplant the country.

3.) The planned trip was being sponsored by an NGO known as MIFTAH. This organization supports the BDS movement and has expressed support for Palestinian suicide bombers. Congresswoman Tlaib and Omar are also linked to other anti-Semitic, pro-Islamist figures including Linda Sarsour, CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood. 

4.) Omar and Tlaib are not being banned because of an effort to curb free speech or because they hold certain political views. Anti-Semitism is not a “political” view. Supporting and promoting the BDS movement is not simply a “political” perspective. It is an aggressive action designed to harm the sovereign nation of Israel, an ally of the United States. 

5.) Critics of the decision call the ban “un-American.” The two congresswomen are part of a far left, progressive group of four congresswomen that also includes Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. From my perspective, it is more “un-American” to embrace and promote Socialism, to encourage open borders/illegal immigration, to call for the abolishment of ICE (who are enforcing existing U.S. immigration laws) to constantly criticize the country that you have the privilege to serve and to call anyone who disagrees with your ideas “racist,” or a “Nazi”  – as these elected officials often do. 

6.) These U.S representatives were voted into office to represent the American people of their districts. They are servants and work for the American people. That’s all.  They were not elected or appointed as diplomats. They were not elected to become activists. But that is exactly what they are attempting to become. 

7.) Final twist: After the ban, Rashida Tlaib, who is Palestinian-American, submitted a “humanitarian request” to the Israeli government requesting permission to visit Israel in order to visit her elderly grandmother. In her petition, Tlaib promised to respect Israel’s restrictions on her activity and promised not to promote and advocate for the BDS movement while there. Israel graciously granted permission for Tlaib to enter the country under these terms. 

Within hours of Tlaib’s request and subsequent approval to visit her family, she refused to accept the permission to enter. What was the purpose of requesting the visit at all, unless she expected Israel to say no and wanted to embarrass the government of Israel? After receiving the requested permission to enter the country, Ms. Tlaib tweeted the following: 

“When I won, it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.” 

In my opinion, it appears that Ms. Tlaib loves her political agenda and anti-Israeli bias more than she loves her grandmother. A sad, distorted view of the world and her place in that world. 

Israel is an amazingly tolerant democracy – much more so than it is ever given credit for. But all tolerance has its limits. And in this case, I believe that Israel is fully within its rights to choose not to host individuals who want nothing more than to criticize their country from within its own borders and to promote movements designed to harm and delegitimize Israeli’s right to exist as a Jewish state. Besides, Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib seem busy enough criticizing and demonizing their own country; they should probably leave other nations alone. 

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