Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar outmaneuver Israel - analysis

If Israel lets in the congresswomen, it will lose because they will use every opportunity – at the al-Aqsa Mosque, at the security fence, at a refugee camp – to bash the Jewish state.

August 16, 2019 00:39
3 minute read.
Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar outmaneuver Israel - analysis

U.S. President Donald Trump, U.S. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are seen in a combination from file photos. (photo credit: REUTERS)

US Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), who have never hidden their deep dislike of Israel, have successfully boxed Israel into a lose-lose situation.

If Israel lets in the congresswomen, it will lose because they will use every opportunity – at the al-Aqsa Mosque, at the security fence, at a refugee camp – to bash the Jewish state. And the press – both local and international – will eat it up. Forget that 72 Democratic and Republican congressmen were just in the country – they could not dream of a fraction of the coverage that Omar and Tlaib will generate.

As House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told The Jerusalem Post last week: “the press loves controversy.” It is not controversial for Democrats to be pro-Israel, it is controversial – therefore, sexy and headline-worthy – for them to be anti-Israel.

And if Israel doesn’t let them in, it will lose, because it will make the country look undemocratic, and will give a full arsenal of ammunition to those who want to paint it as such. This will force Israel’s friends in the Democratic Party to condemn it, and it could impact on the positions presidential candidates will now take on Israel in the debates.

Israel, in normal circumstances, would allow them to visit. It has dealt with unfriendly congressmen on trips to the West Bank in the past, and has lived to tell about it. Just last month, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer articulated Israel’s instincts on the matter when he said, “Out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel.” But these are not normal circumstances.

The two congresswomen that Israel is barring are half of the “Squad,” a group of four freshmen, far-left representatives that also includes Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. US President Donald Trump is battling them, including a recent Twitter attack against them.

Trump’s focus on these four women seems part of a policy of trying to make them the face of the Democratic Party. Their left-wing, socialist agenda is anathema to much of the US mainstream, so it makes electoral sense for him to make them the Democratic Party’s poster girls.

In a reference to Ocasio-Cortez, Trump tweeted last month, “We all know that AOC and her crowd are a bunch of Communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own country, they’re calling the guards along our Border [the Border Patrol Agents] Concentration Camp Guards, they accuse people who support Israel as doing it for the Benjamins... they are Anti-Semitic, they are Anti-America.”

What would it look like for Trump, therefore, if Israel let in congresswomen who he labeled antisemites and anti-Israel? And so, as Channel 13 reported over the weekend, the Trump administration began sending messages to the government that the president was opposed to Israel letting them in.

On Thursday, Trump made it crystal clear himself, tweeting that to allow entrance would “show great weakness.”

“They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” he tweeted. “Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

That tweet explains how Israel went from Dermer’s comments a month ago, to the decision on Thursday to bar entrance.

After all that Trump has done for Israel – moving the embassy, withdrawing from the Iran nuclear agreement, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and giving Israel unprecedented backing in the international forum – Netanyahu cannot say “no” to the president.

It is no coincidence, therefore, that on Wednesday, after weeks of not saying anything about the planned visit, leaks began emerging saying that government officials were concerned about “provocations” the two congresswomen were planning on the Temple Mount. That was a sure sign that the ground was being prepared for what came less than 24 hours later: the unprecedented decision to bar entry to two US legislators.

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