Opinion: Israel needs to change course on Omar and Tlaib

Ross Marchand

Israel and the “squad” (a group of progressive female lawmakers that includes Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib) aren’t exactly thick as thieves. As it goes, Israeli law allows officials to ban individuals that support the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, and both Omar and Tlaib have previously voiced support for boycotting Israeli goods.

As a result, Israeli officials made clear that Omar and Tlaib’s visas were dead-on-arrival only to do an awkward about-face and allow Tlaib in (but only on “humanitarian” grounds). Omar is still left out, and Tlaib has undoubtedly been read the riot on making political speech in the Jewish State.   

U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich. speaks to constituents in Wixom, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019.

Of course, Israel is well within its legal rights to deny the members of U.S. Congress entry and stifle their speech in-country, but these decisions are hardly wise. Censorship through customs often proves more trouble than it’s worth, spurring backlash and eroding the credibility of the offending country. Instead of using customs as a pretext for restricting speech, Israel should welcome controversial speakers with open arms.

In this May 18, 2019 file photo, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., speaks during the fourth annual Citywide Iftar Dinner in Austin, Texas. A campaign finance investigation found that Omar filed joint tax returns with her husband before they were legally married. The Minnesota Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board says Omar and her husband filed joint tax returns for 2014 and 2015. They weren't married until 2018. Omar's campaign says all of her filings are fully complaint with applicable tax law.

Israel is generally open to visitors bearing any viewpoint, so the ban on Omar and restrictions on Tlaib reeks of a double standard. After all, Omar and Tlaib’s rhetoric pales in comparison to Reverend Al Sharpton’s blatantly anti-Semitic references to “bloodsucking Jews,” “Jew bastards" and “diamond merchants.” Yet Rev. Sharpton’s remarks certainly haven’t stopped his visits to the Jewish State.

Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan deemed the creation of Israel an “outlaw act,” argued that Zionists are “criminals in the sight of Almighty God,” and, for the hat trick, referred to Judaism as a “gutter religion.” The minister has been well-known for his prejudiced views since the seventies, yet none of these choice words kept Farrakhan from entering Israel from Jordan in 1997. Why did these guys get in?

Letting in the likes of Farrakhan, who used his Israel visit to meet with Palestinian terrorist leader Yasser Arafat, while spurning Omar and restricting Tliab creates a bizarrely inconsistent policy that harms Israel’s credibility around the world.

A key and critical narrative espoused by Israeli officials and pundits deals with the very real double-standards that Israel must endure on the world stage. Israel’s defenders reasonably point to the United Nations’ obsession with the Jewish State human rights abuses while failing to really scrutinize countries such as Saudi Arabia and Cuba as a hypocritical stance. But when Israel itself engages in double-standards, it weakens the national narrative.

That’s a significant problem for a country hell-bent on shoring up its reputation in the midst of an unprecedented charm offensive stretching from Chad to the United Arab Emirates  

In the effort to make a political statement, Israel has also given their opponents an even broader platform. Omar and Tlaib are getting far more exposure in both the Israeli and Arab press, which declares that “Israel fears a visit by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib.”

That narrative allows Omar and Tlaib to play the role of victim to Israel’s bullying stance, undercutting Israel’s message that they’re the ones constantly picked on by the world. 

This is simply not a good look for Israel, a country bent on projecting the best image that they can to convince the world they are no pariah. No one will be convinced, however, if they embrace the very double-standards that they regularly fall victim to. 

Israel is understandably traumatized by previous admittees such as Farrakhan rubbing shoulders with Arafat, but there’s no indication that Omar would meet with, say, Hamas terrorists, or that Tlaib would endorse terrorism if given a license to speak about politics in Israel. 

Blowhards such as Omar and Tlaib are forgettable and not nearly as radical as Farrakhan or Rev. Sharpton. But making them into media martyrs will undermine Israel’s message to a skeptical world. 

Ross Marchand is a Young Voices contributor.