Israel blocks freshmen Congresswomen from Israel – Is it worthy of the media hype?

As the second week of August came to a close Israel was preparing for the arrival of two controversial US congresswomen. However, before these two members of the new congressional “squad” (Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib) set off on their trip, Israeli lawmakers announced they would bar the congresswomen from entry.

An initial reaction by most Israel supporters is to grimace at the phrase, “bar from entry”. It rings of censorship, silencing opposition, and at face value seems to feed all the accusations about Israel being an apartheid occupation. But if we step back from the blinding spotlights of media coverage and analyze the facts, a different picture begins to appear. 

Let’s start with some basic questions; why were these congresswomen denied entry? Part of the answer comes from an Israeli law passed in 2017. In March of that year, the Knesset granted the Ministry of Interior the authority to deny entry to any supporter of the BDS movement. This law was used as the basis for Israel’s decision to deny Omar and Tlaib. The two have not been shy about their opinions of Israel as well as their support for the BDS movement. In fact the Palestinian NGO that organized their trip is Miftah, a known supporter of the BDS movement and terrorist actions within Israel

If their public support of BDS wasn’t enough, according to Hananya Naftali (deputy social media adviser to the Prime Minister Netanyahu) the final straw was the itinerary for their trip. The published itinerary for the trip was entitled “US Congressional Delegation to Palestine”. However, an entire day from their trip was to be spent in Jerusalem visiting the Western Wall, Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and the Al Aqsa mosque; Jerusalem is not under Palestinian control. Unlike other members of congress who recently visited Israel, the trip did not include meetings with Israeli lawmakers (Arab or Jewish). Israel saw that the sole purpose of this trip was to undermine the existence of the State of Israel and be used as a grand media platform for her opposers. Thus, the decision was reached. 

Congresswoman Tlaib did send a letter to the Ministry of Interior requesting special permission to enter Israel as her 90 year-old grandmother lives in the West Bank. In her letter she stated, “I will respect any restrictions and will not promote boycotts against Israel during my visit”. Israel quickly granted the congresswoman’s request, but to the surprise of everyone she announced on twitter that she would not be “silenced” and “treated like a criminal”. She went on to explain that she could not visit her grandmother under these “oppressive conditions”, conditions she herself set. 

Regardless of one’s philosophical perspective on whether or not Israel should have admitted these congresswomen, the facts should be examined instead of the media buzz surrounding the event. In context, this action is not abnormal nor is it worthy of the amount of controversy surrounding it. 

This is not the first time Israel has barred dignitaries from allied nations entry into Israel. Just a few weeks ago a member of Spain’s ruling party was denied entry into Israel because of potential security issues. In previous years multiple members of the French government have also been barred due to their support of terrorism or the BDS movement. 

It is not just Israel that has barred lawmakers with questionable ties. In 2012 the US bared then Israeli MK Michael Ben Ari from entry. Ben Ari was a member of the far right National Union party and a member of the Kach organization which was marked as a terrorist organization. The US has also denied entry to other foreign dignitaries in the past. In 1987 the US put then UN Secretary General and Austrian President Kurt Waldheim on a watch list and banned him from entry to the US due to his Nazi ties during World War II. Multiple Irish lawmakers and citizens were denied entry into the US for their connections with the IRA and its offshoots. These included Bernadette Devlin McAliskey in 1983 and Shane Paul O’Daherty in the late 1990s. 

With things put into perspective, the barring of Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib doesn’t appear as shocking. In a world of clickbait and polarized American politics this story has been taken further than anyone else’s with similar experiences. The simple fact is that these two congressmen are fresh superstars in the American media, and their lives are being treated as such. However, were they less noteworthy, there’s no doubt the amount of press received on the story would have been barely noticeable and the condemnation of Israel absent.