Israel’s decision to let U.S. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib visit Israel and the territories in the coming weeks despite their declared support for BDS – which has been expressed in part by their sponsorship of a bill protecting boycott supporters in the United States – is additional proof of the pointlessness of the battle against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. Despite sophisticated intelligence methods and the huge amount of money the state wastes on the battle against BDS, Israel will never manage to make criticism of the occupation go away.
U.S. Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer said that out of respect for Congress and the Israeli-American alliance, no member of Congress would be barred from entering Israel. Consequently, Omar and Tlaib will be allowed in, despite the law that is supposed to bar boycott supporters from entering.
This is an important lesson to anyone who thought it was possible to force the world to disregard the occupation. It turns out to be impossible even when America is led by a friendly president, and when those seeking to enter Israel are Democratic congresswomen whom President Donald Trump loathes, and about whom he tweeted just last week that they should “go back and help fix” the countries they came from.
In other words, an exception was made to Israel’s law even for the sake of people Trump abhors, under a provision in the regulations for its implementation that allows exceptions to be made for politicians or diplomats due to fear of harming Israel’s foreign relations. Israel has limited room to maneuver; at most, it can permit itself to harass a lone student. It can’t touch senior officials who are boycott supporters. At the moment of diplomatic truth, confronted with official representatives of foreign countries, Israel has no choice but to tuck its tail between its legs and let the world see what it’s hiding in its backyard.
Israel’s capitulation is important because it sets a precedent. Today it’s American congresswomen, but tomorrow, boycott-supporting members of the British, French or German parliaments will try to visit to “learn about the occupation.” What will Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say then?
The battle against BDS has achieved the opposite of its goal: It grants free publicity to the boycott movement and portrays Israel as a benighted country that persecutes its political opponents. If Israel has nothing to hide and has confidence in its policies, it shouldn’t try to prevent the entry of BDS supporters. The boycott law is a badge of shame. Instead of trying to hide the occupation, Israel should be working to end it. Instead of investing its resources in concealing the situation, it should invest its resources in fixing it.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.