Opinion |

Axis of Awfulness: Israel and U.S. Go Off Deep End With New Travel Bans

While the American far-right benefits from heading the world's leading superpower, Israel's right-wing leadership is plunging headfirst into a bottomless pit.

Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter
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U.S. President Donald Trump greeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump greeting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, U.S., February 15, 2017.Credit: Kevin Lamarque/REUTERS
Asher Schechter
Asher Schechter

At last, the unholy alliance between the American far-right and the far-right in Israel has reached the level of true symbiosis: On Tuesday, within hours of each other, both the United States and Israel revealed new travel bans aimed to keep out enemies of the state.

In America, U.S. President Donald Trump revealed the new, refined version of his Muslim ban, blocking the citizens of six majority-Muslim nations from entering the U.S. – “the most significant hardening of immigration policy in generations,” according to the New York Times. Not even four hours later, the Knesset gave final approval to a bill that bans foreign citizens who have called for economic, cultural or academic boycott of Israel or settlements in the West Bank from entering the country.

The proximity of the two bans is coincidental, of course, but it is also telling of identical values, worldviews and tactics of the far right in both countries. The political leadership of both Israel and the U.S. now form the new Axis of Awfulness that sets the standards for far-right extremists worldwide.

While vastly different from each other (Israel doesn’t require any Trumpian bans, its official border policies already exclude most non-Jewish immigrants from Muslim-majority countries), the two bans are also similar in more ways than one: Both are wholly undemocratic, aiming to keep various “undesirables” out even at the price of stomping basic human rights; both are based on groundless prejudice and xenophobia; and both present enormous judicial, political and humanitarian challenges.

Also, both bans are complete, certain trainwrecks. But Israel’s is so much worse.

Make no mistake, Trump’s revised Muslim ban is still the same unconstitutional mess as it was in its first incarnation. It contradicts the judgement of Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security, exempts countries where radicals who seek to harm America actually do come from (Saudi Arabia, for instance), and blatantly, unapologetically discriminates on religious grounds.

Having said that, it does have a (rather flimsy) security excuse, in that the countries included in the ban, like Syria, are terrorism hubs. Of course, that excuse falls completely apart when we consider the DHS’s stance that Trump’s “extreme vetting” won’t make America safer, or that Iraqi nationals were seen as a severe security threat during the first incarnation of the ban, only to be removed thanks to effective lobbying. Nevertheless, as flimsy as it is, the terrorism pretext is still there.

Israel’s ban, however, is ridiculous in so many ways, not least because it hysterically overinflates a nonexistent threat. The BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) movement has had a terribly limited success so far in posing even the slightest threat to Israel’s economy, and that’s putting it mildly. Another way to phrase this would be a colossal flop.

As is typical of so many bills proposed by the Israeli far-right in recent years, the new ban is ill-considered and thoughtlessly phrased. Its very logic is ludicrous: It’s one thing for the president of the United States to ban migrants from a country like Syria. But for a tiny, isolated Middle Eastern country like Israel to ban European and American visitors simply because it doesn’t like their politics? That is some nonsense right there.

It is also completely unnecessary: As any foreign national who has visited Israel knows, Israel’s immigration and border authorities already have far-reaching powers to ban anyone they like. Just ask Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch researcher that Israel tried to ban and failed, following international condemnation. Or ask Norman Finkelstein, the controversial American Jewish intellectual who was denied entry, deported and banned from entering Israel for 10 years in 2008 due to his fierce criticism of Israel. Or renowned linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, who was denied entry into Israel and the West Bank in 2010. (A funny anecdote: After Chomsky was denied entry, Netanyahu’s then-spokesman said that “the videa that Israel is preventing people from entering whose opinions are critical of the state is ludicrous.”) And the list goes on and on and on.

Much like the land-grab bill that was approved last month by the Knesset, Israel’s travel ban makes the mistake of trying to codify something that in effect is already taking place. By doing so, it exposes itself to numerous judicial challenges and sheds light on unofficial policies that Israeli propaganda has spent years trying to conceal.

Just like the land-grab bill, this new travel ban provides more questions than answers. Will the many left-wing Jews around the world who support a boycott of West Bank settlements be denied entry into Israel? And short of people who are bona fide members/ employees of BDS and affiliated organizations, how will Israel even know which foreign nationals support a boycott? Will there be a directory of foreigners, complied by Israeli agents who, presumably, will skim every visa applicant’s Facebook feed?

To understand how inane this is, just imagine the following scenario: A left-wing, settlement-boycotting Jew is denied entry into Israel. Once he or she are denied entry, they decide to instead make aliyah through Israel’s Law of Return, which gives every Jew the right to immigrate to Israel. Can Israel really stop these people? Technically yes (it would have to prove that they pose a danger to the state or the Jewish people), but this will be much more difficult and would expose Israel to even more legal conundrums.

Those who seek answers to any of these questions would be hard-pressed to find any. That is because the bill’s intention is first and foremost to appeal to a relatively small, radicalized voter base, not to provide sensible policy. By doing so, it exposes Israel to numerous legal challenges and severely damages its already-damaged international image, thereby pushing moderates straight into the hands of the boycott movement, all in the service of “winning” over an ineffective network of disorganized activists.

In the past few months, courtesy of the far-right, both Israel and the U.S. have gone off the deep end. But the U.S., being the U.S., has the benefit of being the world’s leading superpower. Israel, on the other hand, is plunging headfirst into a bottomless pit.

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