Four Lessons From Israel’s Clash With Tlaib and Omar

The best way for Israel to strengthen its hand is not by waging war to the utmost against its opponents, but by maximizing the number and range of its friends.

On Thursday, Representative Rashida Tlaib requested and received permission to enter the state of Israel to visit her 90-year-old grandmother in the West Bank. “This could be my last opportunity to see her,” she wrote, on congressional letterhead. “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”

Today, Tlaib reversed herself. If she cannot promote her political views, she will not visit. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me,” she wrote. “I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in—fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib Rejects Israeli Offer to Visit West Bank Family

Israel walked back an earlier decision to block a visit by Tlaib and Omar

Rep. Rashida Tlaib on Friday called off her visit to the West Bank, hours after Israel ’s decision to allow her into the country on humanitarian grounds with some restrictions on what she could say and do.

Her announcement capped off two days of back-and-forth, with Israel on Thursday saying it would bar Ms. Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar from the country because of their support for boycotting Israel. Israel had said last month it would allow the Congresswomen to visit but reversed course after pressure from President Trump, who said “it would show great weakness” to let them in.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!

Ms. Tlaib had filed a humanitarian appeal to Israel, promising not to promote boycott activities and abide by restrictions while visiting her family in the West Bank. She said it might be her last chance to see her elderly grandmother. But she said Friday she didn’t want to visit under the conditions imposed by Israel, who she accused of “silencing me and treating me like a criminal.

“I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in—fighting against racism, oppression & injustice,” she said in a tweet.

Rashida Tlaib

@RashidaTlaib

Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in–fighting against racism, oppression & injustice. https://twitter.com/RashidaTlaib/status/1162341203406401536 

Rashida Tlaib

@RashidaTlaib

When I won, it gave the Palestinian people hope that someone will finally speak the truth about the inhumane conditions. I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies. https://twitter.com/RashidaTlaib/status/1162333169846247425 

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Israel’s announcement Friday had partially walked back Israel’s decision Thursday to block Ms. Tlaib, a Palestinian-American representing Detroit, and Ms. Omar, a Somali-American representing Minneapolis, from entering Israel for a visit to Jerusalem and the West Bank that was to begin Sunday.

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who said he authorized Ms. Tlaib’s entry into Israel on humanitarian grounds, wrote on Twitter that the congresswoman’s “hatred of Israel outweighs her love for her grandmother.”

The episode was the latest round in Mr. Trump’s feud with Ms. Tlaib and Omar, who, along with New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley, make up a group of women of color in Congress calling themselves ‘The Squad.’ Mr. Trump has repeatedly targeted them at rallies and on Twitter as being anti-Israel, which they deny.

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Sen. Marco Rubio (R. Fla.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Israel’s decision to bar the Congresswomen is a mistake. “Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state,” he said.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said the decision was a sign of weakness, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it believed every member of Congress should be able to travel to Israel.

Democratic leaders have expressed concern over Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar’s views on Israel, which are problematic for a party that has identified as pro-Israel.

Ms. Omar has said lawmakers’ support for Israel is motivated by money, which critics slammed as anti-Semitic. She later apologized for the comments after Mrs. Pelosi rebuked her.

Ms. Tlaib has slammed Israel’s policies toward Palestinians and has said she supports a one state solution, in which Israelis and Palestinians living in Israel would have equal rights and representation. Israel fears that would be the end of its Jewish majority in the country.

Along with Ms. Omar, Ms. Tlaib was to visit Jerusalem, Hebron, Bethlehem and Ramallah.

Ms. Tlaib came under fire from some supporters Friday after she had accepted Israel’s offer to visit her grandmother. Some Palestinians criticized Ms. Tlaib as having caved to Israeli pressure and accepting unfair demands.

Bassam Tlaib, 54, the Congresswoman’s uncle who lives in Beit Ur al-Faqua, said the whirlwind of media reports whether Ms. Tlaib would be allowed to enter Israel brought the family “from a state of happiness to anxiety.” He said he was afraid to give Ms. Tlaib’s grandmother hope that she’ll be visited by her grandchild.

“She’s is waiting to be embraced by her loved one,” Mr. Tlaib said of his mother and the congresswoman’s grandmother.

What Are Trump and Netanyahu Afraid Of?

Barring Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib shows weakness and intolerance, not strength.

It is difficult to stomach the notion that an American president would put pressure on Israel to deny entry to two members of the United States Congress.

There are not many traditions of decorum that President Trump has not trampled on since entering the White House. But to put at risk, so cynically, America’s special relationship with Israel solely to titillate the bigots in his base, to lean so crassly on a foreign leader to punish his own political adversaries, to demonstrate so foul a lack of respect for the most elemental democratic principles, is new territory even for him.

Though facing a difficult election next month for which he sorely needs the support of his fractured right-wing base, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was said to be leaning toward allowing Representatives Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan to travel through Israelout of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America,” as his ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, wisely said last month. But, on Thursday, Mr. Netanyahu cravenly bowed before the pressure from Mr. Trump.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Mr. Trump tweeted on Thursday morning. “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”

Sad, to borrow one of Mr. Trump’s favorite words. How sad that two leaders — each desperate to look tough to his own base — are risking a bipartisan relationship built between these two nations over generations. Only weak leaders would risk so much for a reward so negligible. To what end?
  • To win a few political points against two of the newest members of Congress?
  • To capture a few news cycles?
  • To dial up the outrage machine just one more notch?

Confident leaders would never have risked so much for so little.

Though many American presidents have sought to influence Israeli decisions throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, they usually did so diplomatically — and to advance America’s interests. Mr. Trump, by contrast, leaned on Mr. Netanyahu as he would on one of his own appointees, in broad view, and in direct violation of what the president of the United States should be doing when democratically elected lawmakers are threatened with a blockade by an allied leader.

There can be, and has been, considerable debate over what the two congresswomen, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress and both sharp critics of the Israeli government, have said and done. They have supported the controversial Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement aimed at pressuring Israel into ending its occupation of the West Bank, a movement that some Jews have deemed to be anti-Semitic.

Yet, from the outset, Mr. Trump has pounced on the religion and background of the two congresswomen to fan racial divisions. Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib were two of the four congresswomen of color, along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, who Mr. Trump said should “go back” to the countries they came from, giving rise to chants of “send her back” at a subsequent Trump political rally.

The visit Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib were contemplating was not to Israel proper, but to the West Bank, where they were to visit Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem, on a trip co-sponsored by a Palestinian organization, Miftah, that promotes “global awareness and knowledge of Palestinian realities.” A visit was planned to the Al Aqsa Mosque, on what Israelis call the Temple Mount, an especially volatile site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is little question that their visit would have focused on Palestinian grievances over the Israeli occupation.

All that was clearly troublesome for Mr. Netanyahu, especially the support of the congresswomen for the B.D.S. movement. A relatively recent law allows the Israeli government to deny entry to supporters of the movement; it was this law that the government used to deny entry to the representatives.

In April the United States barred Omar Barghouti, one of the co-founders of the B.D.S. movement, from entering the country when he was scheduled to deliver a series of talks and attend his daughter’s wedding. Other American public figures have been detained by Israeli authorities, ostensibly because of their political views, including the

  • IfNotNow founder, Simone Zimmerman, who was held at the border; a B.D.S. advocate,
  •  Ariel Gold, who was denied entry to the country; and the
  • journalist Peter Beinart, who was held at the airport. Mr. Netanyahu later called Mr. Beinart’s detention a “mistake.”

Yet contrary to Mr. Trump’s tweet, it is blocking entry by two American legislators who are critics of Israel that shows great weakness, especially after Israel hosted visits by delegations of 31 Republican and 41 Democratic lawmakers this month.

It has long been Israel’s mantra that critics of its policies should come see for themselves, and the country is certainly strong enough to handle any criticism from two members of Congress. Mr. Trump has done Israel no favor.