The deluge of apocalyptic headlines and social-media posts on the Netanyahu government’s U-turn after a tweet by Donald Trump, and now the blocking of the visit to Israel and the West Bank by U.S. congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, are greatly exaggerated. Nothing whatsoever has changed.
Yes, barring critics from entering the country is bad for Israel’s increasingly limited and fragile democracy. But that has been government policy for a while now, even before the controversial law to block boycott supporters from entering the country was passed in 2017. This is simply just the highest-level case so far. And despite the prominence of Tlaib and Omar, their arrival, or non-arrival, isn’t important in itself.
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Some pundits have tried to make out as if Israel were “hiding the occupation” by preventing the visit – as if the world’s most prominent news organizations hadn’t been covering the occupation extensively for decades. Palestinian activists and their supporters have expressed regret at missing out on the publicity opportunity that the visit could have afforded them – as if the Palestinians’ problem were a lack of publicity for their cause, not that despite all the exposure they’ve received, the world isn’t interested in doing anything to pressure Israel on their behalf.
And yes, the decision is bad for the relationship between Israel, the Democratic Party and the large majority of liberal American Jews who vote for them, as can be seen in the wide range of criticism, coming even from AIPAC.
But what’s new about that? There have been much more direct snubs by Benjamin Netanyahu over the years. This is an Israeli prime minister who in 2012 endorsed the Republican nominee Mitt Romney, in 2015 traveled to Washington to address Congress against President Barack Obama’s foreign policy, and since Trump’s election, has done everything to embrace a president opposed and feared by the overwhelming majority of American Jews.
If you needed this minor incident to prove that Netanyahu isn’t interested in either democratic norms or compromise with the Palestinians, and that in the interest of keeping Trump sweet he has absolutely no problem with trampling American-Jewish sensitivities and the suffering relationship with the Democrats, you’ve been comatose for the last two and a half years.
This is a nonevent – at most an illustration of a long-ongoing situation. The Tlaib-Omar visit was a meaningless empty gesture that would have done nothing to help the Palestinian cause to begin with, and its cancellation will change nothing as well – except for the politicians involved, all of whom are winners.
Netanyahu is a winner because he doesn’t care about what liberal Americans – Jews and non-Jews – think about him. He knows they hate him either way. He cares about what Israelis who will be voting in next month’s election think – especially those belonging to his rather dispirited right-wing base. For them, cooperating closely with Trump and keeping two Muslim members of Congress out are both signs of strength and statesmanship. Those who see the way he capitulated in the face of one tweet probably had no plans to vote for him anyway.
Trump is a winner as well. Not only has he shown how he can get Israel’s government to change its policy based on just one of his tweets, but he also continues to exploit a tiny handful of rather inconsequential politicians and use them to typify the entire Democratic Party. He wants Tlaib and Omar to be recognizable faces of the Democrats, and this has perfectly played into his hands.
Tlaib and Omar are winners as well. They’ve gained both publicity and points for being brave radicals standing up to Netanyahu and Trump without even having to land at Ben-Gurion Airport. The visit would have garnered publicity as well, but it would have also been a potential minefield with every word uttered at every public meeting, and every person attending, coming under intense scrutiny. Any detail during the trip that could have been construed as support for terrorism would have been used against them.
This way they get to stay home and reap all the kudos without any of the risk. So the media attention would be for them, not for the Palestinians. But when has that ever bothered a politician?
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