November 21, 2019

Three Things to Consider About the Decision to Bar Omar and Tlaib

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) leaves the U.S. Senate chamber and walks back to the House of Representatives side of the Capitol with colleagues after watching the failure of both competing Republican and Democratic proposals to end the partial government shutdown in back to back votes on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., January 24, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Israel on Aug. 15 denied Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) entry into the country hours after President Donald Trump publicly urged Israel to block their visit.

Consider the following three things as you take a deep breath to ponder Israel’s decision to block the two congresswomen from entering the country.

1. The visit was a well-planned trap: Either Israel allows the congresswomen to enter, exposing itself to a barrage of criticism (live broadcast from Jerusalem!), or it prevents the congresswomen from entering, exposing itself to, well, a barrage of criticism. Because this is lose-lose situation, no decision would make everybody happy.

2. Israel had to consider which of the two bad options is more dangerous. Literally —  dangerous. Having the representatives in Jerusalem could incite violence. In fact, it is not unreasonable to assume that they would seek to create clashes in order to prove a point (Israel is brutal, Israel’s police are violent, etc.).

3. Israel also had to consider the damage if it refused to let in the representatives. Possible answer: The damage wouldn’t be great. Those who already dislike Israel will have even more reasons to dislike it. Others will hopefully understand why the ban was necessary. Many think Tlaib and Omar are provocateurs who want to make trouble.

So here is the basic question for observers of this drama: Is Israel obligated to allow provocation by outsiders on its soil? Reverse the question: Imagine these were two Israeli legislators wanting to stir chaos and violence on American soil, and you might have an answer.

The pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee indicated it opposed the ban.

“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” AIPAC tweeted on Aug. 15.

Some critics of the president said his move was part of a strategy to divide the Democratic Party. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the move “deeply disappointing.”