September 15, 2019

Why Were Omar and Tlaib Afraid to Meet Israelis?

U.S. Reps Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) hold a news conference after Democrats in the U.S. Congress moved to formally condemn President Donald Trump's attacks on four minority congresswomen on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., July 15, 2019. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo

Israel’s decision to bar Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country is being criticized from across the political spectrum— and I can see why.

Regardless of where you sit politically, it’s bad optics for a country that bills itself as “the only democracy in the Middle East” to act as if it has something to hide. I know that Israeli law gives Israel the right to block entry to those who support BDS, and that Omar and Tlaib gave them plenty of ammunition. As Bari Weiss wrote in a New York Times column criticizing Israel’s decision,

“I have strong feelings about the noxious views of Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib. I believe that the B.D.S. movement, which both women support and which, crucially, is not about ending the occupation but about denying Jews the right to self-determination anywhere between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, is anti-Semitism in hip, new clothes.”

From Israel’s standpoint, though, the problem is that this animosity toward the Jewish state is not the major story. It’s the decision to bar Omar and Tlaib that has sucked up most of the media attention and turned the Congresswomen into victims.

Hardly anyone is talking about the unfairness and irresponsibility of two U.S. Representatives visiting a major American ally and completely ignoring that ally.

As Alan Dershowitz tweeted, “Allowing them in [would] expose their hypocrisy in boycotting Israel, while themselves demanding that they not be boycotted by Israel.”

More importantly, the other story that has gotten lost is Omar and Tlaib’s published itinerary, which dismissed Israel and focused on the Palestinian agenda. Hardly anyone is talking about the unfairness and irresponsibility of two U.S. Representatives visiting a major American ally and virtually ignoring that ally.

Had they gone on the trip, that dereliction of duty would have been glaring. They would have been the offenders, not the victims.

I might even have written a column asking the Congresswomen: “Why are you afraid to meet Israelis?” In particular, I would have suggested they visit the New Israel Fund (NIF), an organization committed to improving Israel’s democracy.

In a part of the world where despots, dictators and theocrats are used to hiding any bad news, Israel should have flaunted its messy democracy.

I’ve written before that the NIF is a dramatic demonstration of Israel’s democracy in action. While most Jews on the right abhor the NIF because it supports groups that constantly bash Israel and focus on its faults, for me, this freedom to bash, this freedom to confront and protest any perceived injustice is a test of a true democracy.

Because they were barred from entering this democracy, Tlaib and Omar are now turning the tables and ridiculing Israel’s very claims of being a democracy and a free society. A visit to the NIF would have disrupted their narrative. Had they refused to visit the NIF or any other Israeli group fighting for social justice, their anti-Israel animus would have been in full view.

Transparency is the essence of democracy. In a part of the world where despots, dictators and theocrats are used to hiding any bad news, Israel should have flaunted its messy democracy. In that scenario, the bad optics would have been on U.S. politicians hiding from Israel on their visit to Israel.