Why Israel errs in barring Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar - comment

Israel has nothing to hide regarding its policies and treatment of Palestinians – most of it is just and some of it is ugly.

August 15, 2019 15:59
2 minute read.
Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar

Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. (photo credit: REUTERS/REBECCA COOK AND ERIC MILLER/REUTERS)

 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a slew of top advisers and officials from various security organizations and ministries have been hunkering down this week trying to decide what to do about Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar.

The arrival of the democratically elected US congresswomen from Michigan and Minnesota – along with other US reps for what is being called a “Congressional Delegation to Occupied Territories in Palestine” – has been shrouded in mystery, but their motives certainly are clear. The deliberations taking place in Jerusalem centered on whether to let them land and enter Israel.

Neither Tlaib nor Omar are friends of Israel. Their past inflammatory statements precede them and they don’t seem interested in learning anything about the Israeli perspective of the ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Despite that, the answer to the question about allowing them into the country should be obvious: of course.

Israel has nothing to hide regarding its policies and treatment of Palestinians – some of it just and some of it is ugly. BDS advocates Tlaib and Omar may be coming to inspect and learn only about the ugly side, but there is no reason why Israeli officials shouldn’t make every effort to engage them in dialogue and host them for frank discussions on the issues.

Last month, Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer made clear that Israel would not bar the entry of the two congresswoman into Israel. “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,” he said.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland), who was in Israel last week leading a bipartisan delegation, said that Tlaib and Omar should be welcomed in Israel.

“Israel’s confidence – as expressed by Mr. Dermer in having any member of Congress who wants to come to Israel, have the opportunity to come to Israel and have access and to see what all these members have seen and will see – is appropriate,” Hoyer said, a declaration backed by Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from California.

What’s changed since then? Is Netanyahu trying to further ingratiate himself with US President Donald Trump, who reportedly is lobbying Israel not to let the Democratic reps in? Let’s hope that wasn’t a consideration for such a sensitive issue.

The decision ultimately made by the government Thursday to apparently ban the congresswomen from entering Israel is shortsighted and deeply flawed. A quashed trip is only going to further deepen the divide between Democrats and Israel – moving moderate Democrats away from a positive view of the country – and raise the specter that Israel is behaving in something less than a democratic fashion.

Tlaib and Omar need to be let in and allowed to see what’s going on in Ramallah, Hebron and east Jerusalem. And every effort should be made by Israel to meet with them and present the other side of the coin. If Tlaib and Omar decline, it will be their loss – but Israel will have done the right thing. Now, all we’ve done is give Israel’s detractors a great gift.

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