Last week, on the heels of the largest bipartisan congressional trip to Israel, including 71 mostly-freshmen Democrats and Republicans representing almost one-fifth of the House of Representatives, a political crisis erupted. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, choosing not to accompany their colleagues, were denied entry by the State of Israel for a separate trip they had planned. Why didn’t these two representatives join their colleagues the week before? What was the agenda for their separate trip? Does a sovereign nation have the right to deny certain individuals entry based on known associations and the stated goals of these individuals?
Prior to my first visit to Israel several years ago a friend remarked, “No matter what you hear, there are two things in life that are not overrated: having grandchildren and visiting Israel!”
Hosted by the nonprofit American Israel Education Foundation, as with all first-time visitors, congressional leaders experienced: historic and religious sites, the cultural crossroads of the Old City, gleaming new cities, technology at work, in short, the “Startup Nation.” Leaders also met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and members of the Knesset and learned why continued U.S. financial support for Israel is vital both to Israeli and American interests. AIEF trips are not about showing one side. They are about showing the diversity and complexity of the region.
Conversely, Miftah, which would have led the trip for Representatives Omar and Tlaib, is an organization with different motives. This organization supports BDS and has historically expressed anti-Semitic beliefs ranging from the retelling of “blood libel” myths to offering sympathy for suicide bombers.
In 2012, Ilhan Omar said: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” In February 2019 she tweeted: “It’s about the Benjamins, baby,” suggesting that politicians accept money for their support of Israel. In May of this year, while explaining her support for a one-state solution, Rashida Tlaib stated that: “There’s kind of a calming feeling I always tell folks when I think of the Holocaust. … And so, when I think about one-state, I think about the fact that, why couldn’t we do it in a better way.” The description of their trip as a “mission to Palestine” denies the very existence of Israel. Their itinerary included meeting with not one Israeli representative.
Imagine if, instead of far-left Democrats advocating the destruction of Israel through the more subtle language of BDS, we had a pair of far-right Republicans suggesting a neo-Nazi uprising against Jews and Israel. Would there be any argument that Israel, with the encouragement of U.S. leadership, should deny these evil individuals the right to enter Israel? Alas, as someone said: “If not for double standards, we would have no standards at all.”
On March 6, 2017, Amendment No. 28 to the Entry into Israel Law was passed by the Knesset by a 46-28 vote. This law prohibits entry into Israel of any foreigner who makes a “public call for boycotting Israel” or “any area under its control.”
The news media attention and likely protests and violence that would have erupted as Omar and Tlaib toured “Palestine” would have dwarfed the coverage given to the 71 less radical representatives from the U.S. In fact, the coverage of their not visiting Israel has already overwhelmed the bipartisan progress just achieved by their congressional colleagues.
We should be willing to look squarely at the ultimate intent of BDS and by extension, the purpose of the visit by Omar and Tlaib. Especially since the pivotal election of 2016, it has been often said: “Words matter.” As Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “Their itinerary reveals that the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it.” Israel had every right to deny their entry.
The words we would rather have heard from Omar and Tlaib, which would have rendered this entire episode moot, are: “We acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, to defend itself and to live in peace.”
Jon Barry is a veteran of commercial real estate in Atlanta and supports numerous local and national organizations that benefit the Jewish people and Israel.