The double-edged sword of Omar and Tlaib

Perhaps ignoring the visit of the congresswomen and waiting patiently for the world to forget about the visit of these fringe politicians would have been the right thing to do.

August 19, 2019 19:22
3 minute read.
The double-edged sword of Omar and Tlaib

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) attends a press event on the first 200 days of the 116th Congress at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., July 25, 2019. (photo credit: MARY F. CALVERT / REUTERS)

In 609 BCE, Josiah, the young king of Judea, made a fateful decision about whether to let an Egyptian army pass through his borders – which ultimately led to his death and the Babylonian Exile.

Although 2,028 years have passed, deciding who can enter the Jewish state remains a challenging question. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was put in a difficult situation by the pending visit of US congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, which presented him with a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, Netanyahu did not want to play into their hands and prove their charges that Israel limits democracy and has something to hide. He certainly did not want to cause problems for American Jewish organizations or risk Israel’s bipartisan relationship with the United States.

Perhaps ignoring the visit of the congresswomen and waiting patiently for the world to forget about the visit of these fringe politicians would have been the right thing to do.

On the other hand, these women are declared antisemites, who were up to no good. Their itinerary contained no meetings with any Israelis. Even if they have tough questions for Israel, they were not looking for answers but simply to embarrass and humiliate the Jewish state.

Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are nothing like their more than 70 Democratic and Republican colleagues who have visited over the past three weeks and met with both Netanyahu and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The United States also has limits on who can enter the country, choosing to deny the entry of then-MK Michael Ben-Ari in 2012. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. wrote a century ago that free speech in the US does not include falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.

Every democracy would take steps against those who want to destroy it. The BDS movement that the congresswomen’s trip was set to advance wants to destroy the State of Israel. The trip was set to be co-sponsored by Miftah, a Ramallah-based organization, whose leaders not only back BDS but have expressed sympathy for suicide bombers.

The most controversial reason not to let in Tlaib and Omar was that US President Donald Trump asked Netanyahu not to do so and tweeted that letting them in would show weakness. The prime minister obviously cannot afford to be seen as weak with an election ahead, and this president has done so much for Israel that his requests, reasonable or not, should not be ignored.

It could be argued that Trump’s motives are impure and Netanyahu harmed Israel by letting the president use him to paint the Democratic Party in the extremist image of Tlaib and Omar. But if that is what it takes for Trump to be reelected, despite his fickle behavior on both the Middle East and the economy, that is clearly in Israel’s interest, because no potential opponent would do for Israel what Trump has done. For all those reasons, AIPAC’s decision to give legitimacy to Israel’s critics by scolding Israel for not permitting Tlaib and Omar into the country was incorrect, even though it was understandable.

Furthermore, AIPAC is supposed to follow the lead from Israel: Israel is not supposed to follow the lead from AIPAC. In the final analysis, Israel does not need to aid the enemy in the name of bipartisanship, and a Congressional badge is not a shield for antisemitism. Facing that double-edged sword, Netanyahu made the right decision. The result should be that, unlike the negative future brought by Josiah’s decision, Netanyahu’s should enable Israel to continue to thrive.

The writer is co-president of the Religious Zionists of America, chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity, and serves as a committee member of the Jewish Agency.

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