By going back on his government’s initial promise to let the two come to Israel, made last month by the ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, Netanyahu is hurting his country’s image as a free and open democracy that is not afraid of scrutiny. Even worse, by allowing Omar and Tlaib to pose as martyrs, Israel will engender sympathy for them among their fellow Democrats and aid rather than hinder their effort to ensure that the party turns sharply against Israel.
At the bottom of this controversy is a foolish law passed by the Knesset in 2017 to ban the entry into the country of foreigners who support boycotts of Israel. The point of the legislation was to hinder non-government organizations that seek to promote the false image of Israel as an “apartheid” state. The activities of BDS proponents inside Israel did little or no actual harm to the state, and their exclusion made the region’s only democracy seem like just another petty tyranny. The law may have provided catharsis to many Israelis, but it helped the country’s opponents more than it hurt them.
Law or no law, though, under normal circumstances, no Israeli government would think of enforcing a ban on a member of Congress no matter how much they were disliked or unwelcome. The unthinkable likely became Israeli policy here for reasons of political expediency. For one thing, Netanyahu may believe excluding Omar and Tlaib will help rally more right-wing Israeli voters to his side prior to the September elections, in which he is fighting for his political life. For another, it is in Trump’s interests for Netanyahu to ban Omar and Tlaib.