When Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri informed U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) that they would not be receiving entry visas for their trip to “Palestine,” as they described it, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately followed with a lengthy statement in support of Deri’s action.
“No country in the world respects America and the American Congress more than the State of Israel,” Netanyahu explained, but Reps. “Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress. Only a few days ago, we received their itinerary for their visit in Israel, which revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”
However, Netanyahu then added a caveat: “Nonetheless, if Congresswoman Tlaib submits a humanitarian request to visit her relatives, the minister of interior has announced that he will consider her request on the condition that she pledges not to act to promote boycotts against Israel during her visit.”
Shortly afterwards, Tlaib submitted a new request for entry into the country.
“I would like to request admittance to Israel in order to visit my relatives, and specifically my grandmother, who is in her 90s and lives in Beit Ur al-Fauqa,” wrote Tlaib. “This could be my last opportunity to see her. I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit.”
As Netanyahu had indicated, Deri immediately approved Tlaib’s new request on humanitarian grounds. However, wasting no time, Tlaib turned down the offer.
“Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she [my grandmother] wants for me,” Tlaib wrote on Twitter. “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.”
She added: “I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity [grandmother] to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies.”
By her refusal, Tlaib acknowledged that the purpose of her visit was never to visit her elderly grandmother, but rather to use that visit as a tool to spread her venomous anti-Israel narrative.
Deri tweeted in response to Tlaib’s refusal: “Rep. Tlaib just tweeted that she won’t be coming to Israel. Just yesterday she sent me a letter, asking to visit her 90-year-old grandmother, saying, ‘It might be my last chance to meet her.’ I approved her request as a gesture of goodwill on a humanitarian basis, but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel. Apparently her hate for Israel outweighs her love for her grandmother.”
Tlaib’s fellow Democrats, who previously had to contend with the anti-Israel rhetoric of “The Squad,” are now rallying behind Tlaib and Omar against Israel, despite pledging just a week earlier that Israel would always receive bipartisan support from the Congress.
In choosing to back these two freshmen congresswomen over America’s staunchest ally, the Democratic leaders are validating what Israelis have known for a long time: Democratic support for Israel is waning.
American Jewish leaders also harshly criticized Israel’s initial refusal to grant Tlaib and Omar a visa, arguing that it was perceived as being unbefitting of a democracy. And yet, in supporting the progressive anti-Israel representatives, who were without doubt intending to spread anti-Israel venom on their trip, American Jews must also consider that they are validating the perception that their support for the Democratic Party may now be superseding their support for Israel.
Allowing Tlaib and Omar to enter Israel would have made life for Israel more complicated. Barring them has made life complicated as well. The “lose-lose” situation Israel was presented with only serves to validate the challenges Israel faces—not only from its enemies, but also from its longtime supporters.
Alex Traiman is managing director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of Jewish News Syndicate.