Last we checked, both the United States and Israel were democracies — and allies. Yet on Thursday the leaders of both countries sounded more like crazy autocrats with a penchant for silencing their critics. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to prohibit U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from entering Israel on an official congressional visit not only smacks of tin-pot authoritarianism, it elevates his critics.
Netanyahu justified this shameful decision by citing a recent bit of daft legislating, an Israeli law prohibiting foreign nationals who back boycotts against Israel or its West Bank settlements from entering the country. That’s bad enough. Even more outrageous is that President Trump appears to have goaded Netanyahu into making this decision.
Not content to call for Omar and Tlaib (and their two progressive Democratic colleagues on the so-called “squad”) to leave the United States, Trump has been pressing Israel publicly not to let them into that country. To quote his tweet Thursday: “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.” He added, “They are a disgrace!”
The only disgrace here is Trump’s behavior.
In his statement, Netanyahu said: “As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to all its critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel.” A real, vibrant democracy, however, isn’t afraid to engage its critics. Unable to form a government and facing an election next month, Netanyahu is under pressure to shore up his profile among his right wing supporters. But playing to his base with strong-arm tactics is an affront to democracy.
The trip of the two congresswomen was being arranged by Miftah, a nonprofit organization headed by a Palestinian lawmaker. But this isn’t about what preconceived views of Israel they bring with them into Israel. This is about allowing U.S. lawmakers into Israel on an official visit. If Netanyahu is so incensed by their politics, he should invite them to meet with officials to hear his administration’s point of view.
Netanyahu’s decision has been criticized by some leaders in his own country and roundly denounced by top U.S. lawmakers from both parties. But Trump loves it. Trump and Netanyahu have become, over the years, strange and mutually obsequious bedfellows. (Trump blew off established U.S. foreign policy and recognized the occupied Golan Heights as part of Israel. As a thank you, Netanyahu announced they will name a town there Trump Heights.)
Netanyahu needs to back away from Trump’s over-the-top attacks on Tlaib and Omar. He is doing his country no favors by shunning two duly elected Muslim congresswomen.