It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. – Donald Trump
If you kill your enemies, they win – not said by Justin Trudeau, but could have been
Sometimes you have a non-issue that everyone wants to be an issue. That is what the controversy about the non-visit (at least as of now) by anti-Israel US congresspersons Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to Israel (which they call “Palestine”) is.
This was a cognitive warfare operation against us that was guaranteed to be successful. Israel had to make the decision to either refuse admission to them on the grounds that they are BDS supporters, or to make an exception because they are members of Congress. Either way, we lose.
The operation was designed by Tlaib and Omar not only to harm Israel, but to achieve several domestic political goals: drawing attention to themselves, raising the profile of the “Palestine issue” in the coming election campaign, embarrassing the more moderate elements in their party, and of course slapping at the president.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu – he made the decision himself – had to consider the possible damage from banning them, in which case Israel would be accused of acting “undemocratically,” of weakness (“can’t face criticism”), of “insulting the US Congress,” of “having something to hide,” and needless to say, of “racism” in “singling out” these two Muslim women. All of these accusations and more have been made.
But allowing them in would have given them a stage for acts of political theater, even possibly the creation of international incidents.
Netanyahu examined the various scenarios, considering intelligence information about the plans of the two and of Palestinian groups here. He also had to take into account President Trump’s public opposition to the visit, and whatever private threats or promises Trump may have made. Netanyahu decided that the best of two poor options was to keep them out.
It was not an easy or obvious decision, and anyone not fully informed of all the facts would have been foolish to second-guess it. The pair planned a visit to the town of Nabi Saleh, a place that hosted weekly marches from 2009-2016 to protest against (and try to tear down) the security fence. These marches usually included violent clashes with local residents, extremist left-wing Israeli supporters, and foreign activists on one side, and IDF soldiers under heavily restrictive rules of engagement on the other. This is where young Ahed Tamimi famously slapped and kicked a soldier (video). One can only imagine the theatrical events that may have been scripted to occur.
Since the whole business was designed to create negative feelings toward Israel, you would expect that American Jewish organizations that are supposedly pro-Israel would try to deprive it of oxygen. You would think they would limit themselves to saying as little as possible about it.
But no. Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) accused Netanyahu of “sacrificing Israel’s commitment to democracy and openness.” J Street called the decision “dangerous, unacceptable and wrong,” and said that it was “motivated purely by politics and ideology — not by the interests of the State of Israel,” as if they have ever supported those interests, and demanded that it “be reversed immediately.” Even AIPAC thinks the two should be able to “visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” despite the fact that they did have such an opportunity with other freshman congresspersons, which they turned down, preferring an official visit to “Palestine.”
And these are organizations that are allegedly friendly (although in the case of J Street, the allegation is weak indeed). Our enemies, on the other hand, opened up with everything they had. Peter Beinart published an article awash with exaggerations and outright lies, accusing Israel of “hiding the reality of the occupation,” as if somehow a visit by a pair of Muslim misozionists* would reveal the “truth” that nobody has been able to see until now.
Omar herself accused Israel of “implementing Trump’s Muslim ban,” which is a breathtaking statement since there is no ban on Muslims entering the US, and countless Muslims fly in and out of Israel every day.
And then there are those who simply don’t have a clue. Gloria Steinem, the former Playboy bunny and feminist icon, accused Netanyahu in a tweet (in which she misspells “Israel”) of denying them “free speech.”
I have a few observations. For one thing, democracy has nothing to do with it. Democracy is a method of national decision-making, and nobody has the right to vote in Israel except Israeli citizens: not American Reform Jews, not J Street, and not Beinart. Anyway, this decision was not made by referendum, but if it had been, probably a majority of Israelis would have approved it.
There is also a precedent: in 2012, the US refused to grant a visa to Michael Ben Ari, an extreme right wing member of Israel’s Knesset. I don’t think J Street or the URJ complained.
Despite what the critics say, Netanyahu’s decision doesn’t seem to have been ideological – although I think it should have been – but rather a simple balancing of the likely consequences of the options available.
My regular readers know that I have strong opinions about the value of an aggressively Zionist ideology, and the need for Israel to assert herself in the public sphere. I don’t know if the concept of national honor entered into Netanyahu’s calculations of how to respond to the proposed visit, but if it didn’t, it should have. Israel’s self-respect demands that we don’t allow people like Tlaib and Omar to use us as a doormat. And her self-interest tells us to minimize their opportunities for political theater against us.
The argument, so popular with liberals, that it demonstrates strength when you give in to enemies and give them what they want, seems to inform most of the arguments against keeping Tlaib and Omar out. I admit that I have never understood that. Weakness is not strength, except in the Orwellian Newspeak of our critics. Trump seems to have got that right.
*Misoziony is the extreme and irrational hatred of the Jewish state. It is antisemitism raised up one level of abstraction, although almost all misozionists are antisemites as well.