Questions Remain Regarding U.S. Reps’ Absence on Israel Trip

It is far from over yet.

Though the fury has subsided, questions remain in the weeks following the Israeli government’s initial formal ban preventing Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from entering the country. Though the action was followed by a reprieve for Tlaib to visit her ailing grandmother in the West Bank, and her refusal, the questions of precedent and ant-Semitism continue.

Omar and Tlaib jointly condemned Israel for its actions, stating that it was an attempt to “to suppress our ability to do our jobs as elected officials.” The pair had also earlier shared incendiary cartoons on Instagram created by cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who participated in Iran’s International Holocaust Cartoon Contest in 2006.

The flip-flop from Israel met with damnation from Gusti Yehoshua-Braverman, chairwoman of the World Zionist Organization’s Department for Diaspora Affairs, who wrote, that it “caused immense damage to the image of the State of Israel among the [general] public, and the Jewish community in the United States in particular.”

Doubling down on earlier remarks, President Donald Trump shocked American Jewry by suggesting their allegiance to the Democrats revealed a disloyalty of America’s Jews. These remarks are uniformly criticized, as Special Envoy to the Israel Palestine Peace Deal Jason Greenblatt remarked that these comments recall profound and ancient anti-Semitic tropes.

Still, the initial ban, while moral, indubitably hands the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement an unprecedented victory, while it emboldens Islamism and unleashes yet another global media echo-chamber lionizing the pro-Islamist, pro-BDS factions.

Omar immediately condemned Israel’s decision as an anti-democratic “Muslim ban” and called Trump an Islamophobe.

Press in America and Israel published a deluge of commentary condemning Israel as anti-democratic and governing at the whim of Trump while accusing him of interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign nation.

Certainly, the dilemma of whether to allow Muslim congresswomen entry placed Israel in an impossible position.

Allow both congresswomen in, and Israel risked an overwhelming media opportunity across dazzling platforms for among the world’s most militant and visible BDS proponents. Omar and Tlaib’s visit reportedly was to be sponsored and curated by the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi, a reported BDS activist.

The now abandoned proposed itinerary had been designated as a “United States Congressional visit to Palestine.” Reading between the lines, the itinerary suggests the trip  was planned  as an explicit rebuke to the earlier AIPAC-sponsored trip.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman noted the proposed itinerary failed to seek meetings with Israeli officials and excluded engagement with all aspects of Israeli society while pursuing an explicitly pro-BDS agenda.

Others observed the itinerary may have encompassed sensitive flashpoints known to trigger violence. Allowing them in also required Israel to disregard its own laws banning the entry of pro-BDS activists on a basis of national security. Doing so would provide precedent for every other subsequent BDS activist to contest refusal of entry in the future.

With the initial ban, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took the only moral choice for responding to professional anti-Semites fomenting de-legitimization of Israel, promoting de-normalization of international relations with Israel, practicing outright denial of Israel’s right to exist and ultimately seeking demographic eradication of Israel masked as a social justice enterprise.

Walking back the denial to allow Tlaib entry allowed for the possibility of compromise. But that is not to be.

Tlaib’s refusal to travel to the West Bank after humanitarian permission was granted was both disingenuous and inadvisable. She loses an important personal opportunity and a chance for bridge- building with the Israeli state.

Certainly, the ban and later reprieve have ignited a furor, explicit global and domestic condemnation of Israel as acting in an anti-democratic fashion and denying freedom of ideas. It also lionized both congresswomen as victims.

Portraying the Muslim as besieged and victimized by a powerful oppressor is central to Islamist ideology which seeks to seclude all Muslims from mainstream society and subjugated to  Islamist pseudo-constituency. Banning Omar from Israel conveniently renders her an ideological martyr.

But it is rank falsehood to state that democracies grant access to all based on “freedom of speech” or some fictional democratic largesse to all and sundry. Elected office does not lend immunity to sanction, and sovereign territories reserve the right to entry of any visitor at their discretion.

The United States refused entry on the grounds of violation of an obscure law on religious freedom, banning now President of India Narendra Modi for nine years when he was governor of Gujarat on account of his refusal to intervene on the 2002 massacre of Muslims in nationalist riots while he was governor.

President George W Bush imposed the ban in 2005 at the recommendation of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. This was only reversed when Modi became the democratic leader of India.

Britain and some European nations similarly placed a 10-year diplomatic ban on Modi for the same reason. It is today conceivable that this law be applied to Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto leader of Myanmar since 2016  on the grounds of her impunity in the face of ongoing genocide of the Rohingya People — Myanmar’s generals have already been barred from U.S. entry.

The United States has refused entry to Israeli parliamentarians. In 2012 the United States refused an entry visa to Jewish parliamentarian Ben Ari, who belonged to the Jewish supremacist group Kach founded by Rabbi Meir Kahane. At the time, Kach was designated a terrorist group by both Israel and America.

True democracies exclude those who seek to foment incitement, sedition and unrest threatening civil order. The United States, European nations and Britain have each exercised exactly this form of privilege, and these decisions did not impact their legitimacy as democracies.

Qanta A. Ahmed, MD, is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a visiting fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and a member of University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation.

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