Comparing the damage from what did and didn’t happen.
The recent controversial non-visit by US Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib provided many people with a platform to discuss the implications of what happened. But what if these two would-be visitors had come? Would we be as insightful on that score? And which would have been worse for Israel?
The widespread sentiment expressed was that Israel erred in not inviting the two Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) supporters. The reasons ranged from our being “bigger” than those who dislike us, to our having opened a Pandora’s Box of partisan recrimination against us; recrimination for not honoring congressional representatives, and even worse, for capitulating to President Donald Trump’s none-too-subtle exhortation that they should not be allowed in.
AIPAC was upset because the women are congresswomen, and all members of Congress are fair game for AIPAC to expose to Israel. Its mission, after all, is to keep support for Israel a bipartisan axiom in Congress.
Others thought that Israel looked small, petty and as if it had something to hide. Still others thought that Israel had been outmaneuvered into showing itself as ultimately not being so open and democratic after all.
These were fairly immediate reactions. They were expressed before the “Grandmother Incident,” in which Interior Minister Arye Deri said he would grant, as a humanitarian gesture, an invitation for Rep. Tlaib to visit her grandmother in a Palestinian village in Judaea and Samaria if the congresswoman would agree to refrain from any BDS activities while here.
Rep. Tlaib did in fact ask for such an invitation, and specifically said she would forego any BDS activity while here. So the invitation was granted.
Hours later she demurred, saying that not being able to speak her mind would be like “killing a piece of me.” So much for grandma.
This little cha-cha was to my way of thinking actually quite revealing. It spoke volumes as to the motivation for their wanting to come in the first place. The release of the supposed itinerary also showed that this was no getting-to-know-you AIPAC type of trip.
In fact, given that it was sponsored under the auspices of Miftah, a leading BDS proponent and major de-legitimizer of Israel, it was a Palestinian-getting-to-know-you trip.
The Israeli interactions were to be with fellow travelers B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence, each of which would have been happy to join the anti-Israel pile-on.
So let’s ask ourselves:
Did Israel do the right thing?
And the corollary question: Did Israel do the smart thing?
Answering the first question must take into account the reality that Israel is subject to a double standard applied to few if any other countries in the world. For example, Israel has a law that allows it to bar entry into the country for those who are entering for the assumed purpose of engaging in BDS activities. This law is a variation on the theme that says a democracy is not a suicide pact, and even democracies have the right to protect themselves.
IS ISRAEL not allowed to apply its law?
Is the law not worth the paper it’s printed on?
Or is to be waived based on particular circumstance?
That, by the way, is exactly what Israel initially did. It waived the law based on a desire to respect two sitting American congressional representatives. Perhaps there was a hope that they would have an eye-opening, smoke-clearing meeting with senior Israeli officials, or an exposure to coexistence and harmony between Arabs and Jews.
However, when the itinerary was shown to the government, it became apparent that this was no fact-finding mission, but an ideological commando raid designed very much to show Israel as the occupier.
The crowning touch might have been the desire to ascend the Temple Mount in the company of Palestinian Authority officials. This would have not only been provocative, it would have been also a disaster for the shred of Israeli sovereignty that still applies to that most sensitive place.
So the government decided that the anti-entry law was quite appropriate, and this was not the exception that proves the rule.
Was this then a smart decision? As mentioned, Israel is living with the consequences of what it did. But what about the consequences of what it didn’t allow, the consequences of an actual visit?
I suggest that the visit would have been a nightmare for Israel, one with possibly far worse implications than might initially had been conceived. The two women are skilled demagogues, and everywhere they would have gone would have been an up close and personal indictment and delegitimization slugfest.
Israel would have been on the defensive, and as it often is, and not very effective or compelling in its responses.
The greater damage would have taken place on their return as the two would have sought to whip up anti-Israel sentiment in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party based on their personal experiences.
They would have pulled the center of gravity of the party toward the left-wing position (as they have been doing on several fronts), which is increasingly hostile to Israel.
While those who are upset with Israel’s decision believe it will weaken bi-partisan support (meaning Democratic support), the aftermath of the Magical Misery Tour would have been intense criticism of an “apartheid, colonialist regime.”
It is hard for many Israelis to understand just how toxic American political discourse has become. Given the Democratic hatred of all things Trump or Trump-related, Israel, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in particular, are walking around with targets on their backs. In the world of intersectionality, with designated victims and designated oppressors, Israel and, increasingly, Jews are being categorized as bad guys.
The visit would have heavily played into this narrative and mindset.
While we can never know the implications of that which did not happen, my strong intuition is that notwithstanding the current criticism, Israel dodged a bullet.
The writer is chairman of the board of Im Tirtzu and a director of the Israel Independence Fund. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.