September 19, 2019

Israel Was Justified in Barring Omar and Tlaib

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. REUTERS/File Photos

Editor’s Note: This is part of a two-opinion analysis on Israel’s decision to ban United States Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). For the other view, click here. 

A great uproar followed Israel’s decision to bar United States Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) from entering the country. However, the government made the right decision, as it was following a law adopted by Israel’s democratically elected legislature and because the congresswomen made it clear they were intent on turning their visit into an anti-Israel propaganda show.

It is an American principle that no one is above the law, yet critics expected Israel to ignore its law banning supporters of the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to accommodate the two congresswomen. The U.S. did not look the other way or make exceptions when it barred Irish politician Gerry Adams, U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim and celebrities such as singer-songwriter Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) from entering our country. In fact, the Obama administration banned a member of Israel’s Knesset from coming here in 2012.

Had Omar and Tlaib gone to Israel on a fact-finding trip (the purpose of most congressional visits), that would have been in keeping with tradition. However, they made a political statement before they left, drafting an itinerary titled “U.S. Congressional Delegation to Palestine.” There is no state of “Palestine”; there is only the Palestinian Authority. This is coded language used by people who support the Palestinians’ desire to replace Israel with a Palestinian state. It also was inflammatory because Omar and Tlaib planned to visit the Old City of Jerusalem, which is not in “Palestine” — it is the capital of Israel.

The two politicians were not interested in visiting other parts of Israel or speaking to Israeli officials. Omar said, “The goal of our trip was to witness firsthand what is happening on the ground in Palestine.” If they had a genuine desire to learn about Israel from Israelis, both Jewish and Muslim, as well as to visit with Palestinians, they could have joined the record number of Democrats who traveled together on a fact-finding mission just days before.

Even after seeing the itinerary and knowing her support for the terrorist-allied BDS movement, which seeks Israel’s destruction, the government was prepared to let Tlaib enter the country. She sent a letter to Israel’s interior minister, asking to be allowed to visit her 90-year-old grandmother because “this might be my last opportunity to see her,” and agreeing to any Israeli restrictions.

Minister Aryeh Deri granted her request, but Tlaib subsequently changed her mind and turned down the invitation, tweeting, “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression and injustice.”

Talk about hypocrisy. As Deri said, “Apparently, her hate for Israel outweighs her love for her grandmother.” Yet, Israel was pilloried for not welcoming a woman with such utter contempt for the Jewish state, not to mention her history of anti-Semitic remarks, including her accusations that American Jews have dual loyalty — the old, vile canard, perhaps the most trafficked of all anti-Semitic tropes.

It is an American principle that no one is above the law, yet critics expected Israel to ignore its law banning supporters of the anti-Semitic boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement to accommodate the two congresswomen.

Tlaib still can visit her grandmother in the future if she changes her mind. She also could have visited her grandmother before she declared her support for the BDS movement. Why Tlaib did not visit her elderly grandmother over the last decade is none of my business, except as it pertains to how she uses her grandmother as a cudgel with which to browbeat Israel.

After complaining about being persecuted for her beliefs, Tlaib had the chutzpah to call for a boycott of comedian Bill Maher, who, accurately if overly colorfully, called BDS “a bull—- purity test by people who want to appear woke but actually slept through history class.” He observed that BDS supporters seem to believe because “Palestinians are browner” than the mostly white Israelis, “they must be innocent and correct, and the Jews must be wrong.”

He also highlighted the absurdity of their belief that “occupation came right out of the blue, that these completely peaceful people found themselves occupied.” For Tlaib, such objectionable speech should be punished by a boycott. This is a hallmark of BDS supporters: the belief they have freedom of speech but anyone who dares criticize them does not.

In addition to hypocrisy, the congresswomen continue to engage in slander against Israel. Omar accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of instituting a “Muslim ban.” Tlaib and Omar are not the first people, or even the first parliamentarians, to be barred from entering Israel. For example, two French politicians were denied entry because of their support for BDS. Perhaps if Omar had gone to Israel, she could have met with some of the more than 1 million Muslims who are citizens of Israel and enjoy full civil rights, unlike Muslims (and Christians) who live under the dictatorial rule of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Like other BDS supporters, Omar and Tlaib are myopic when it comes to civil rights. Hence, they are silent, for example, after the Palestinian Authority announced this week it was banning members of the Palestinian LGBTQ community from engaging in any activities in the West Bank. This was especially ironic given Tlaib’s tweet the same day about her “allies” in the LGBTQ community.

I also don’t buy the argument that Israel’s decision has divided Democrats and made Israel a partisan issue. Just before this balagan erupted, the House voted 398-17 to approve a resolution opposing BDS; only 16 Democrats opposed it. Also, a record 41 Democrats went on the Israel trip Omar and Tlaib shunned. If anyone turned Israel into a partisan issue, it was President Barack Obama, who twisted the arms of Democrats to vote for his catastrophic Iran nuclear deal that legitimized an abominable government sworn to a second Holocaust and that gave $150 billion to the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism.

This latest incident, along with President Donald Trump’s focus on the four progressive congresswomen known as “the squad,” has put Democrats in the uncomfortable position of feeling the need to defend Omar and Tlaib. They clearly are embarrassed by the congresswomen and have emphasized the politicians are just two votes in a chamber that continues to overwhelmingly support Israel.

In contrast to some of my Jewish friends, I do not believe banning Omar and Tlaib strengthened the BDS movement because BDS received its 15 minutes of fame. People quickly will view this incident in its proper context. Two hate-filled members of Congress with an irrational loathing of the Jewish state were denied entry because they joined a movement that seeks Israel’s destruction. BDS leaders make no secret of this goal. As professor and BDS supporter As’ad AbuKhalil has said, “The real aim of BDS is to bring down the state of Israel.” Who said that Israel is obligated to invite people into the country who seek its annihilation?

Yes, the ban provoked some bad press, but for Israel, it is much more important that BDS supporters be kept out of the country, where they can do far less damage than if they were allowed to attack the legitimacy of Israel from within.

After 2,000 years of anti-Semitism and just 75 years after the Holocaust, it’s time for the Jewish people to stop the slow creep of anti-Semitism from the moment it rears its ugly head. And being a member of Congress does not provide license to hate the Jewish people and seek the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state.


Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the author of 33 books, including “Kosher Sex,” “Kosher Adultery,” and “Lust for Love,” co-authored with Pamela Anderson. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @RabbiShmuley.