Will Benjamin Netanyahu cancel the Pallywood version of Vacation? After his government shrugged its shoulders at a planned visit by fierce Israel opponents Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar a month ago, the Associated Press reported this morning that the prime minister might have changed his mind. The day before the pair are due to arrive, Netanyahu has been meeting with consultants to determine whether he can block their entry into Israel:
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was holding consultations with senior ministers and aides on Thursday to reevaluate the decision to allow two Democratic congresswomen to enter the country next week.
An Israeli official said they are meeting about an upcoming visit by Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. The newly-elected Muslim members of Congress are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and support the boycott movement against Israel. Tlaib’s family immigrated to the United States from the West Bank.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said “there is a possibility that Israel will not allow the visit in its current proposed format.”
It’s the “outspoken support” for BDS that’s the issue. Israel has rules that bar most BDS advocates from entry into the country, but that’s awkward at least when the advocates are also legislators in the country’s most important ally. Dana Weiss, a reporter for Israel’s Channel 12, says the decision has been made but that a final formulation for it is still under discussion (via Breaking Israel News and Instapundit):
It’s official: Israel will bar Congresswomen @RashidaTlaib and @IlhanMN from entering Israel due to "suspected provocations and promotion of BDS” at this time the final decision is been drafted and passed for comments before a press release. https://t.co/YikKaKe97g
— Dana Weiss (@danawt) August 15, 2019
It’s actually not “official,” at least not yet and not even by Weiss’ own description. The Washington Post reports that Netanyahu is already feeling some backlash from friendlier Democrats, who warn him that it’s likely to backfire:
Barring Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel, however, would amount to an about-face for Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, who said last month that Israel would not deny entry to any U.S. lawmakers “out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America.”
The question about their entry status arose because of Omar and Tlaib’s upcoming visit to Israel and the West Bank slated for Sunday and a recently passed Israeli law that denies entry visas to foreign nationals who publicly back or call for any kind of boycott — economic, cultural or academic — against Israel or its West Bank settlements. …
Informed Wednesday that Israel would formally deny entry to Omar and Tlaib, Democrats in Congress quietly braced for a new public fight with the long-serving Israeli leader, said several congressional aides familiar with the discussions.
It is still unclear whether Netanyahu will follow through on that decision, however, after a private backlash from the Democratic leadership and some U.S.-based pro-Israel groups, who warned against barring sitting members of Congress from entering Israel because of their political beliefs, said the aides, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive discussions.
So far, there hasn’t been any public statement from the Israeli government. That could mean that Netanyahu’s reconsidering the reconsideration, and for good reason. He has to face another election in a few weeks, and this kind of last-minute reversal might not play well at home. If Israel had rejected the visit from the beginning, perhaps Netanyahu would have been on firmer political ground both at home and here in the US. This kind of reversal might give Tlaib and Omar more sympathetic treatment, at least in the short run, while making Netanyahu look more nakedly political.
Besides, what’s the risk for Netanyahu? The visit by Tlaib and Omar gives Israel at least as much opportunity for public-relations wins as it does that pair. These are not political geniuses; they are first-termers on the national stage here and greenhorns on the international stage. They’re going to make radical statements that can be easily refuted and gaffes that can be easily exploited. Netanyahu and his team should be able to run rings around them. If nothing else, he can accuse them of attempting to interfere in Israeli elections, which would delight Donald Trump after two-plus years of unfounded Russiagate accusations coming from their fellow Democrats.
In short, letting them in at this point would have less downside and much more potential upside than barring them at the last minute. Assuming Netanyahu wins his election and Trump doesn’t, the Israeli PM will need to warm up his ties to Democrats, which means it’s probably not a good idea to cut them altogether over a couple of rubes like Tlaib and Omar.
Update: The idea has one man cheerleading, anyway:
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 15, 2019
Caught between the opposing views of President Trump and Democratic leaders, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reversed himself on Thursday and decided to prohibit Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from visiting Israel during a trip scheduled to start Sunday.
The move followed an unusual intervention by President Trump and immediately opened up a new battle between Netanyahu and Democrats, who had privately warned that such a decision would be unprecedented and inconsistent with Israel’s claims of tolerance and openness.
“The decision has been made; the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely told Israel’s Reshet Radio.
The Israel Policy Forum has already criticized Netanyahu’s decision, calling him to reconsider his reconsideration. What will AIPAC say — and how will this impact the previously bipartisan consensus for supporting Israel?
Update: Netanyahu has issued a statement explaining the decision. He claims that the BDS-supporting pair’s intent was to “hurt Israel,” and that they have no obligation to facilitate that:
NEW: Statement from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: "The two-member congressional visitation plan shows that their intent is to hurt Israel and increase its unrest against it." https://t.co/g6EZ2YL1Z0 pic.twitter.com/C4Yf8zOcjQ
— ABC News (@ABC) August 15, 2019
He also points out that the organization sponsoring the visit is itself a supporter of the BDS movement. That’s not exactly a great look for Democrats, who just voted down a measure introduced by the pair to give BDS even some support for political change.
Update: Jeff Dunetz has more background on what changed:
The change in the Israeli position was caused by the Omar/Tlaib itinerary once they came into the country. Per the Israeli press, it’s become clear in recent days that the entire visit schedule would be devoted only to the Palestinian Authority and only to East Jerusalem and was intended to provoke provocation and, among other things, to try to advance the BDS agenda of the two. Per Israel’s Labor Minister, the visitation plan they prepared was entirely aimed at provocation and incitement against the State of Israel, and not to study the State of Israel’s activities. In other words, they weren’t coming to Israel to investigate what was happening there, they weren’t even going to visit Israel (only the disputed territories). They were coming to Israel for a big anti-Israel PR event, and to push the BDS call for the destruction of the Jewish State.
Jeff will join me on The Ed Morrissey Show this afternoon to discuss this further. It starts at 4 ET and airs right here on Hot Air as well as Facebook.