Benjamin Netanyahu with Donald Trump at Ben Gurion airport, 2017. Photo: Flickr/Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Israel’s refusal of two US congresswomen is unacceptable but highlights the strength of BDS, writes Richard Pratt

Israel announced on Thursday its decision to bar Muslim congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country, citing their support for the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement. Tlaib has now been given permission to enter only to visit her family and for “humanitarian reasons” and after stating that she would not advocate for BDS while she is there.

BDS is a non-violent campaign led by Palestinian civil society. Since its establishment in 2005, it has called for the organised boycotting of specific businesses, with the aim of pressuring Israel into complying with international law.

On the decision to ban the two members of congress, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely has stated

“We won’t allow those who deny our right to exist in this world to enter Israel. In principle, this is a very justified decision.”

This moral concern rings hollow when you consider that for Rashida Tlaib, whose family are from occupied Palestinian territories, the ban denies her access to her own history. (Of course, this stumps MAGA demands to send dissenters home…)

Israel’s ambassador to the US had recently said that the country would not deny entry to any members of congress, but today’s decision comes following increased pressure from Donald Trump to refuse the congresswomen entry, tweeting that allowing them access would “show great weakness”.

In the same tweet, the president makes the outrageous claims that both Tlaib and Omar “hate Israel” and hate “all Jewish people”.

This racist accusation is a prime example of the deliberate conflation of criticism of the Israeli state with antisemitism that is being levelled against the left and even against Palestinians themselves.

The Times of Israel cites a statement from an American organisation which, whilst critical of the decision to deny entry to the congresswomen, does find fault with the proposed delegation’s lack of intent to meet with Israeli officials. This suggests that, for Israel’s supporters, the possibility of allowing public figures to witness the occupation first-hand without diplomatic distractions is unthinkable.

The statement also reaffirms “Israel’s sovereign right to control entry into the country, a right that every nation employs”.

Yet clearly not every nation does enjoy this right, as Palestinians subjected to the military rule of a foreign occupying force will be able to tell you.

Israel’s self-appointed status as a liberal democracy is continuously called into question by its actions, which in effect amount to apartheid, and barring politicians (at the behest of Trump) for daring to publicly criticise the ongoing illegal military occupation of Palestine demands condemnation.

The Israeli state’s response to support for BDS shows how afraid it is of widespread growing criticism. That in turn shows us how crucial it is that we keep up the pressure and maintain this tactic of solidarity with the Palestinians.