Editorial: Israel's impossible situation

The Detroit News

Israel is in the hot seat for initially barring two U.S. Democratic congresswomen from its borders. And while we think the Middle East's lone democracy should have taken the higher ground, we also recognize Israel’s valid safety concerns and understand why the rhetoric of Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib might raise alarms. 

On Friday, Israel’s interior minister reversed course in regard to Michigan’s Tlaib, saying she could enter the West Bank to visit her 90-year-old grandmother after the Detroit representative specified she would “not promote boycotts” and respect other restrictions.

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., left, and Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit, at President Donald Trump's State of the Union speech.

Tlaib then changed her mind, saying it would go against her values to agree to Israel’s terms and that she felt she was being “silenced.” 

More:Israel grants Tlaib West Bank visit but she's not going to go

“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter – reflecting just how undemocratic and afraid they are of the truth my trip would reveal about what is happening in the state of Israel and to Palestinians,” Tlaib said in statement.

Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar is still barred from entering Israel.

Much attention is on President Donald Trump’s involvement, and his tweet urging Israel to ban the lawmakers: 

“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!” 

The fight between the president and these two congresswomen is well documented, and Tlaib has led the effort calling for Trump’s impeachment. Trump, however, is out of line in meddling with the business of Congress, which is an independent branch of government. 

Israel has its own reasons for wanting no part of Tlaib and Omar, both of whom are Muslim and have actively supported a global movement to boycott Israel. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, known as BDS, is far from peaceful, and encourages the harassment and intimidation of anyone seen as supporting the state of Israel. The Palestinian-led BDS seeks to harm Israel’s economy, and has challenged Israel’s right to exist. 

Locally, BDS supporters prevented a Lebanese American businessman from opening a Burgerim franchise on the border of Dearborn and Detroit, simply because the restaurant chain was founded by an Israeli. The threats and protests Sam Zahr endured led him to abandon his plans, even though he’d already invested thousands of dollars in the property. He says his attempts to reach Tlaib went unanswered. 

More:Opinion: Boycott of Israel threatens Dearborn businessman

The safety risk to Israel is that Tlaib and Omar would inflame an always volatile environment in the Palestinian territories and could lead to actual violence. 

When Israel announced Thursday it would bar Omar and Tlaib, who had referred to their trip as a “delegation to Palestine,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the congresswomen’s itinerary “reveals that the sole purpose of their visit is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it.”

Yet in making that decision, Israel in effect gave Omar and Tlaib the upper hand — and gave them an even bigger platform to denounce Israel’s policies.

Israel loses either way in this dispute, and might have been wiser to allow the congresswomen their visit rather than turning them into victims.