Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, said that “out of respect for the U.S. Congress, and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel.”
Even President Donald Trump, who has tweeted racist attacks against Tlaib and Omar and called Democrats an “anti-Israel, anti-Semitic party,” managed to divert his mania in other directions for a few weeks.
It was too good to last.
This morning, the Israeli government reversed itself with an announcement that it would not permit Tlaib and Omar to visit. Even before it was official, Trump, on cue, uncorked the gasoline, tweeting:
“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!”
Read: Trump has enabled Israel’s antidemocratic tendencies at every turn
Cards on the table: I strongly disagree with Tlaib’s and Omar’s critiques of Israel. Their sympathy for Palestinians is understandable. I share it and have long supported a two-state solution that ends the occupation and gives Palestinians sovereignty and Israel security.
But their views go much further. They call into question the legitimacy of Israel in any borders. They have voiced support for the BDS movement, which advocates the end of Israel, rather than the establishment of two states, and assigns all responsibility for this conflict, in all its historical complexity, to Israel alone. (In March, Omar wrote that she supports a two-state solution.) Omar tweeted anti-Semitic tropes, for which she later apologized.
My eyes are open about Israel’s contributions to the stalemate: the expansion of settlements, demolitions of Palestinian homes, and open calls for annexation of the West Bank. Palestinian leaders who don’t educate their people to accept Israel’s legitimacy and permanence and give tacit or explicit backing to violence also bear responsibility. And Trump walking away from long-standing U.S. support for two states has emboldened the rejectionists in both camps.
If Tlaib and Omar did not plan to use their trip to hear a broad range of views on both sides, then they were missing the opportunity to see things they have never seen, learn from people they have never met, and gain new insights into the lives of Israelis and Palestinians and pathways to resolve their endless conflict.
But the Israeli government, which has too often taken sides in America’s partisan wars of late, initially made the smart, strategic decision. It prioritized the bipartisan foundations of the U.S.-Israel relationship, the understanding that the Congress represents U.S. citizens and taxpayers who, year after year, provide major financial support to Israel’s ability to defend itself. They were willing to endure a visit in which critical voices would be heard, just as a mature, confident democracy should.