The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu’s rather discriminatory decision has caused a flutter in the roost. His refusal to US Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and to offer Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, entry to the West Bank only on humanitarian grounds and with conditions, is an unprecedented step which has rightly provoked widespread alarm in both the US and Israel.
He has been criticised even by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, normally one of Mr Netanyahu’s most loyal defenders and a critic of the two Democratic Congresswomen over their remarks on Israel. The controversy is very likely to persist despite the fact that Ms Tslaib clarified on Friday that she would not, after all, visit her grandmother although she has been granted an Israeli permit on humanitarian grounds, asserting that Israel’s “oppressive conditions” were aimed at humiliating her.
Her forthright remarks in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s approval is bound to resonate in the echo chambers of Jerusalem and Washington ~ “Silencing me with treatment to make me feel less-than, is not what she (my grandmother) wants for me. It would kill a piece of me that always stands up against racism and injustice”. Pretty obvious is the fineprint, indeed the core of Middle East politics ~ the historical humiliation of Palestinians. Both Tlaib and Omar are outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians; both had planned to visit Jerusalem and the Israeli-occupied West Bank next week.
We do not know if Ms Tlaib had initially agreed to Israeli conditions; yet we do know that the reality on the ground must have compelled her to change her mind. Israel controls entry and exit to the West Bank, which it seized in the 1967 Middle East war along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Palestinians have demanded both territories for a future state. Clearly, Tlaib has accorded precedence to her ideology and geopolitics over what Netanyahu had orchestrated as “humanitarian grounds”.
That Israel’s interior ministry, after initially saying that it would bar entry to both women, offered Ms Tlaib the chance to visit her elderly grandmother in the occupied West Bank on humanitarian grounds might have seemed a concession. But if anything it hardened the original decision: she would have been allowed in not as a politician and on the basis of her rights, but in a personal capacity.
No wonder she rejected the offer and will stay away. On closer reflection, the development is less about Israel in 2019 and more about America in 2020. It can be contextualised with the US President’s racist suggestion that four young progressive women of colour should “go back [to the] places from which they came”. The two Congresswomen, Ms Ilhan Omar and Ms Rashida Tlaib, Muslims both, are Donald Trump’s favourite targets. It is a complex cocktail of family commitments, US electoral compulsions, religion and race.