Friday, August 16, 2019

The Fallout of Banning Tlaib and Omar

US Congressional delegation visiting Israel (PBS screenshot)
I was a bit premature yesterday. About 2 seconds after I said that Israel was considering reversing their decision to allow Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar - two anti Israel Democratic House members who support BDS - they were barred from entering the country.

I discussed both sides of the issue yesterday – the pros and the cons - of letting them in and I leaned towards letting them in as the perfect example of Israel’s commitment to free speech even if it was against their own country. 

The backlash from Democrats was not what I expected it to be. Although Israel was criticized for reversing their decision, most of the criticism was reserved for the President who was blamed for this reversal. He had earlier made a comment that Israel was making a mistake by letting in these two anti Israel/anti Jewish congress woman and that they would show weakness if they did. It was only after the President ‘tweeted’ - that Israel reversed course. While criticizing Israel for doing that, Democrats believed that Israel’s Prime Minister was ‘forced’ to do that because the leader of the free world and Israel’s closest (if not only) ally is America. Not to mention Israel's domestic political situation in light of its upcoming election.

(It should be noted that as a humanitarian gesture Israel will allow Rashida Tlaib to visit her 90 year old grandmother who lives on the West Bank. She at first accepted but then changed her mind with an explanation that is typical of her biased anti Israel stance. I guess she hates Israel more than she loves her grandmother!)

Now that this is a fait accompli, it is worth examining the why and the what of it. Was it really because of the President? Or were their other legitimate reasons? I think there were. (And certainly Israel’s ‘official’ reasons did not mention the president at all.

The obvious reasons were that Israel has a right to differentiate between legitimate criticism and actions whose purpose is to weaken the country – if not outright destroy it. BDS is of the latter variety. Which is why Israel passed a law that bans BDS supporters. (From which Tlaib and Omar were originally made exceptions because they were US government officials.)

There was also the fact that they billed their trip as a visit to Palestine - NOT Israel - to see for themselves the ‘horrid’ conditions under which Palestinians live. Without the slightest attempt to see Israel’s point of view on this. They had no intention to meet with any Israeli officials.

But here is the ‘kicker’. While all this is going on, the US was in the middle of hosting a Congressional delegation that included the House leaders of both parties. Tlaib and Omar wanted no part of that. Had they come with that delegation along with their many other House colleagues (from both sides of the aisle) they would have been welcomed. They would have even been allowed to go to the West Bank if they chose – just as other American officials have in the past. But they only wanted to go to ‘Palestine’ and promote BDS. Thus hurting Israel in tangible ways.

For me, that puts a slightly different complexion on this. Instead of this being a genuine fact finding tour, this was a clear attempt to hurt Israel by two powerful congress women. Powerful by virtue of the worldwide media attention and sympathy they get.

I’m still not entirely convinced that Israel should have banned them. I’m not sure how much actual damage they would have done. And it might have enhanced Israel’s commitment to free speech. But it is certainly a lot more understandable now. And it didn’t hurt that the leader of the free world suggested it.

What remains to be seen is whether this decision will harm Israel in the long run. I don’t think so. Especially now that I see that the criticism is mostly directed at the President. Even the media has been a bit more honest about that.

This doesn’t mean that Israel has gotten away Scott free. Their decision was criticized on both sides of the political aisle. Including one of Israel’s biggest Republican supporters, Marco Rubio. But I do not see this as hurting Israel in the long term. Even among Democrats.  

There has been a lot of hand-wringing by liberals that support Israel – fearing that Israel’s current embrace of the Republican right wing ‘agenda’ for the Middle East  that includes things that Democrats have opposed (like settlement activity and the rejection of the Nuclear deal with Iran) – will significantly weaken American support for Israel in the long run. But as I said, I really don’t think it will.

I realize of course that America is far more important to Israel than Israel is to America. But I would not discount the value to America of Israel, the Middle East’s only legitimate democracy. To just cite one example of that, Israel’s intelligence services have provided and will continue provide information that is no doubt invaluable to American security and perhaps even to world peace. If and when Democrats get control of the White House (which is entirely possible a little over a year from now) they would be foolish to try and hurt Israel in any significant way.  I think they almost all know that. Which is one reason the House voted overwhelmingly to reject BDS. (With the obvious exception of Tlaib and Omar and 15 others. Among them Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.)

I believe the last night’s PBS interview of Israel’s former Ambassador to the US, Danny Ayalon and Democratic Congressman Brad  Sherman is illustrative of my views.