Barring Omar and Tlaib: Minimal downside for Israel
After hints were dropped that the Israeli government might permit Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to visit Israel "out of respect for Congress," Israel has in fact decided that Omar and Tlaib will not be admitted after all, although Tlaib was offered a humanitarian visa to visit her family.
Characterizing Omar and Tlaib as "clear outliers" in the Democratic Party, Michael J. Koplow, policy director for Israel Policy Forum, goes on to prognosticate that:
The next steps in this drama following Israel's decision are tragically predictable; Democrats, including every presidential contender, will condemn Israel's decision, Trump and Republicans will tar Democrats as putting BDS supporters above Israel, and the anger and resentment among Democrats over the use of Israel as a wedge issue will only grow. Trump will win politically, the progressives will gain more ammo for their argument that American support for Israel is misguided, and Israel will be the ultimate loser.
There is an argument quickly developing that it would have made sense to allow Omar and Tlaib into Israel if they were genuinely interested in learning about Israel's security challenges firsthand and hearing from Israelis, but that their itinerary was instead going to be one-sided and intended to showcase Israel's ugliest warts. This misses the larger point, and demonstrates why keeping them out betrays Israel's weakness rather than conveys its strength.
The Chamberlainian appeasement mindset underlying Koplow's logic does not wash. Israelis still have a bitter taste in their mouths from the Ariel Sharon government's failed 2005 self–ethnic cleansing operation of the Gush Katif communities that left Gaza judenrein, intended as a pilot project to definitively demonstrate Israel's good faith to the world in hopes of bringing the region closer to peaceful coexistence. The assaults upon Israel from Gaza territory have only intensified ever since.
Actually, the potential for undesirable results from Israel's exclusion of Omar and Tlaib has been overstated. The contentions that Israel risks alienation of the Democratic Party (and others on the leftward side of the political stage) are as ridiculous as they are empty. The Democrats' 2016 convention in Philadelphia (which occurred before "The Squad" was The Squad) has already given proof positive of what the Democratic Party establishment will tolerate if not actively support; on the convention floor, the so-called "Palestinian" flags were legion, but the Stars and Stripes were scarce, and Israeli flags were burned by demonstrators.
Moreover, with the Israeli election do-over just weeks away, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs to continue spinning straw into gold in order to maintain his political footing. The prime minister already has serious internal concerns. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is under pressure to indict Bibi on various allegations of misdeeds that crossed over from the political to the criminal. These suspicions include, but are not limited to, allegations that Netanyahu received some personal benefit in an Israel Navy contract for submarines.
[I know what would have happened to me if I had received personal quid pro quo benefit from contractors whose awards I approved when I was a contracting officer for the U.S. Department of Defense, and I do not have anything resembling the political protektzia apparently possessed by Jack Kligman, who oversaw much of my work at the time in a quasi-supervisory capacity and who, in the closing days of the Clinton administration, received a presidential pardon from his conviction on a guilty plea to conspiracy and mail fraud charges stemming from some baksheesh shmeers he received from vendors.]
For the past few years, there have been some leftist demonstrations outside Mandelblit's home in Petach Tikva, but of late, the demonstrations have gone from weekly to nightly. Though nonviolent, the demonstrations are loud and obnoxious. If I do not walk the hundred meters from my apartment building to directly observe the demonstrations at the scene, I certainly can hear the demonstrators loud and clear, even with the windows shut tight. Mandelblit is clearly under pressure to come down with some indictments, if only to assert and maintain his own credibility and objectivity.
Netanyahu's exclusion of Omar and Tlaib has the obvious imprimatur of President Donald Trump. The exclusion happens to serve the political interests of both leaders quite well.
For Netanyahu, it gives the Israeli electorate a "feel good" sense that its government is finally standing up on its hind legs and barring terrorism-supporters from entering the country. Additionally, it sets a precedent, for if U.S. congresscritters can be excluded from setting foot on Israeli soil beyond the customs booth, then mere rank-and-file Israel-bashers can likewise be excluded from the country. Moreover, the exclusion is an action which cannot be protested with impunity by the U.K. Corbynistas, for just last June they excluded President Trump from the Borough of Greenwich during his official visit to London.
As for Donald Trump's political agenda, the exclusion of Omar and Tlaib calls Democratic Congressman Steny Hoyer's bluff when he assured Netanyahu and the people of Israel that the Democratic Party platform would include a strong pro-Israel plank, regardless of who leads the ticket in 2020. Hoyer and his fellow Democrats are now boxed into a corner; they must either back Omar and Tlaib at the cost of pushing the party further leftward and losing votes, or continue to back Israel at the cost of additional intra-party strife, either alternative redounding to the furtherance of Trump's machinations.
Also playing into the hands of Trump and Netanyahu alike is Netanyahu's conditional offer to Tlaib of reconsideration on "humanitarian" grounds:
Nonetheless, if Congresswoman Tlaib submits a humanitarian request to visit her relatives, the minister of interior has announced that he will consider her request on the condition that she pledges not to act to promote boycotts against Israel during her visit.
Tlaib has just refused the offer of a humanitarian visa, calling it "oppressive" so what's clear now is that her planned visit to Israel really was for the purpose of conjuring up discord. If she eventually changes her mind anddoes reapply under the "oppressive" conditions stated, then she will need to behave herself and "not to act to promote boycotts against Israel during her visit;" and every step of hers during the visit would be observed and critiqued by governmental officials and journalists alike. Any deviations of hers from the non-promotion of boycotts proviso would give Netanyahu and Trump further ammunition to use.
To allow Omar and Tlaib to proceed with their Israel visit would only convey the message that Israel is weak and gullible. In the long run, Israel's exclusion of the two has little if any downside risk.
Kenneth H. Ryesky, a freelance writer currently based in Israel, is an attorney who has taught business law and taxation at Queens College CUNY for more than two decades.