Israel was wrong to ban Tlaib and Omar
Early on Thursday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu banned U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering Israel. The apparent reason was that the two Muslim American and Democratic congresswomen refused to coordinate their trip with Israeli security officials. Even so, his decision is a poorly calculated one.
Make no mistake: Omar and Tlaib’s positions on the Israel-Palestine conflict are odious. To support a boycott movement against the world’s only Jewish state while ignoring far greater human suffering and abuses in countries like Syria, Somalia, Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan is telling. So too is a willingness to ignore the reality of Israel’s security challenges. Both Hamas and Hezbollah are openly genocidal, the former in its founding covenant and the latter in its public statements. Mahmoud Abbas, now in the 15th year of his four-year presidential term, is a dictator whose vanity and corruption is the main factor to blame for the failure of Palestinians to prosper.
Coordinating with foreign governments is a courtesy and, when it comes to security for foreign dignitaries, a necessity. If the trip was largely informal and unofficial as Omar and Tlaib initially claimed, such protocols could be ignored. After all, Israel is a democracy and all visitors should be free to roam. If Omar and Tlaib lied and sought to subsequently add official meetings or to visit places for which officials need to coordinate in advance, then the Israeli government might have barred that portion and that portion only.
Netanyahu, alas, is playing into a propaganda trap by allowing Omar and Tlaib to suggest that the reality of Israel is as they depict it to be, rather than the thriving democracy it is. Omar and Tlaib will now depict Israel as afraid of its record and interfering in the lives of anyone who is critical of Israel or Netanyahu. Most of their followers in the United States will not care to learn otherwise, nor will the agenda-driven journalists who dominate Middle East foreign affairs coverage bother to report the two representatives’ adherence to basic protocol. (Some journalists might object to the characterization that they are partisan or agenda driven, though, in most cases, their indignation is betrayed by their Facebook or Twitter feeds).
Had Omar and Tlaib visited Israel, their statements would have been negative, and they may have highlighted a false narrative or amplified Israel’s very real flaws beyond proportion. But ultimately, the news coverage would have been a flash in the pan. Now, however, they can always claim to be martyrs for the cause.
More importantly, however, as Democrats tack far to the left and a progressive generation seeks to undermine the foundation of the U.S.-Israel partnership, Netanyahu’s decision furthers the split as many Democrats will have no choice but to side with their colleagues, despite Omar and Tlaib’s cynical efforts to create a wedge.
The real Achilles’ heel for Omar and Tlaib remains the falseness of their cause. They place propaganda above fact and twist beyond any recognition a semblance of concern for U.S. national security. If the U.S. abandons Israel, whom should Washington support? A dictatorship like Abbas’ that still promotes blood libel? His supporters in Damascus, Tehran, or Ankara?
Better than a ban would have been a debate. If Omar and Tlaib sought to transform an unofficial visit into something more, perhaps someone like Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. should have challenged them to air and debate their grievances to a broad audience and on television. If Omar and Tlaib are true guardians of a cause, they should not be afraid to wage intellectual battle rather than Twitter wars.
In reality, however, the volume of their bluster and those of their ideological comrades is inversely proportional to their understanding of history, security, and fact. Israel had a chance to show their intellectual high ground in a battle of ideas. Alas, Netanyahu’s ban loses that opportunity and instead wins one for the liberal, activist, and anti-Zionist (if not anti-Semitic) mob.
Michael Rubin (@Mrubin1971) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner’s Beltway Confidential blog. He is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a former Pentagon official.