When Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar announced their plans to visit Israel, the government let it be known that it would not bar them from entry—despite a law preventing those who publicly promote boycotts of the Jewish state from receiving visas. But last week Jerusalem abruptly reversed course, perhaps in response to pressure from President Trump, perhaps because the trip was partially sponsored by the anti-Semitic organization Miftah and involved no meetings with Israeli officials. Tlaib then applied for permission to visit her grandmother, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank, in a solely personal capacity. But once her application was approved, she declared that she would not go under the conditions to which she had agreed.
Alex Joffe takes stock of the visit, Israel’s handling of the issue, and the media’s response:
The Israeli choices were unpalatable: [Tlaib and Omar] could have been admitted and created a media circus for the duration of the visit when they would undoubtedly have issued various condemnations of Israel, or it could have denied them admission. Arguably, the worst outcome would have been a visit to the Temple Mount by the two, which could have sparked riots resulting in injuries perhaps even to the congresswomen themselves. More likely [still], Israeli, or even American, security officials would have prevented them from visiting the Temple Mount at all, resulting in a well-publicized confrontation.
The American responses were predictable. President Trump had broadcast his belief [on Twitter] that the two should be denied entry, with characteristic caprice, . . . making it appear that he was [either] attempting to support Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision (prior to the Israeli elections), or that Netanyahu was kowtowing to an American diktat.
Yet, writes Joffe, even if Jerusalem might have done better to allow the visit, the denunciations from politicians and pundits were wildly out of proportion:
These . . . condemnations conveniently overlook that Israel has done the same with legislators from other countries, as the U.S. has with an Israeli parliamentarian, as well as a host of others, . . . on far flimsier grounds. [T]he disproportionate response, the sheer outbreak of hysteria and hyperbole, are also measures of the outsized role Israel plays in American politics.
Beyond this, the description of the decision as unprecedented and an affront to Congress is not only deliberately exaggerated and ahistorical: it is also an . . . endorsement of seeing Israel as a vassal of the U.S. [Critics argue that Israeli] vassalage was “proven” by its “taking Trump’s’ advice.” . . . But Democrats also expect to be kowtowed to. . . .
Israeli public diplomacy, clumsily divided between the prime minister’s office, the multifaceted strategic-affairs ministry, and the kneecapped foreign ministry, fell between the cracks. Coordination with the U.S. at the formal diplomatic level and that of various legislators and organizations was also lacking. In the end, it would have been wise to allow Omar and Tlaib to visit and to have been gracious in the face of their animus. Nevertheless, despite the storm, it is unlikely that this particular train wreck will destroy the Israel-American relationship.