November 22, 2019

The Omar-Tlaib Entry Ban: 10 Comments on the Aftermath

U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) participates in a news conference to call on Congress to cut funding for ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. February 7, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

1. Israel was right to reverse course and prevent representatives Omar and Tlaib from visiting. The following tweet by former Israeli MK Dr. Einat Wilf says it all: “Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have no goodwill towards Israel, or pro-Israel Jews. They are on a long-term mission to turn the US away from Israel. They are not coming with an open mind. There is no reason for Israel to allow them in and submit to their agenda.”

2. Or read this tweet, by Eugene Kontorovich. “Omar’s falsely and proactively calling this a ‘Muslim ban’ reassures me that denying the visa was the right thing to do. Anything that would happen on the trip she would absurdly blame on racism, anti-Moslem bigotry. Now the list is at least kept short, the visa denial”.

3. Why did I begin with Wilf and Kontorovich? Because there is a false impression that there are no decent arguments for banning the visit, and no decent people supportive of banning the visit. That’s not the case.

True, many legislators and Jewish leaders and Aipac and AJC opposed the ban. They also have good arguments. But these arguments are not necessarily better than the arguments raised by supporters of the ban (myself included).

4. A while ago, I came to suspect that many US Democrats no longer understand the value of borders and no longer have respect for the right of countries to control their borders. This is evident to anyone observing the US debate about immigration. It is evident when Israel is criticized for insisting on its right to control its borders, whether to stop Gazans from infiltrating southern Israel, or deciding that two visitors are not welcome.

5. Something to remember: Tlaib and Omar have no inherent right to visit Israel. Israel is under no obligation to let them visit. They are not Israeli.

Some people say: you must tolerate critics. We do. In fact, we tolerate much more than our fair share of critics. Israelis have the right to criticize Israel from within, and all others are free to criticize Israel where they are.

6. Some people say: the ban will damage Israel’s relations with the Democratic Party. It might, or it might not. But is Israel the only party with a vested interest in these relations? Democratic leaders also have a choice. They can choose to understand that Israel has a point. They can choose to disagree and move on. They can also choose to damage the relationship. What they can’t do is argue that Israel alone is responsible for maintaining the relationship, and that Israel alone is responsible for souring it.

7. That Aipac believes Israel erred is important, but quite predictable. Aipac’s main turf is Congress, Aipac’s main challenge is having to deal with a reluctant Democratic Party. Israel made this challenge more difficult to overcome. Aipac is attempting to mitigate the damage.

8. It is reasonable for a state to say that it is willing to engage with everyone except those openly seeking its destruction. It is useful for a country, and for its critics, when a line of intolerability is drawn for everybody to see. That way, there is no confusion. You want to be a critic and still engage Israel in conversation? Here is a line you cannot cross.

9. Oftentimes policy makers must make decisions when the probable outcome of different options is unclear, because it depends on many unknowns. How long might the ban damage Israel’s relations with the Democrats? Will Omar and Tlaib serve in Congress for many terms, and get senior positions? Who will win the next US election? What will be on the American agenda in the coming years? Is Netanyahu staying or going? Will a peace process resume, how and when? Just take note of one recent example: when PM Netanyahu decided to speak in Congress against the Iran deal, he was condemned by many Democratic legislators. But his insistence paid off when Trump was elected President.

10. There is another unknown that ought to be considered. Had Israel let the visit move forward as planned, what would be the consequences? What if the Congresswomen deliberately provoked Israeli security officers? What if they were successful in stirring tensions that would then turn to bloodshed? What if they were hurt and Israel was blamed for it?

The answer is: We only see the damage of the road taken, but there is also damage in the road not taken.