Press Releases

Backgrounder: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Refusal to Allow Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib Entry to Israel

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT: Elisheva Goldberg
917.740.4031 phone
[email protected]

15 August 2019
  • The decision by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to refuse entry into Israel of two prominent Democratic freshman members of the U.S. House of Representatives, Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, is another instance of Benjamin Netanyahu choosing his own short-term personal and political interests over the interests of the Israeli people.
  • This decision represents a reversal of a prior decision by the government to exempt the Congresswomen from the Entry into Israel Law. Last month, Netanyahu’s government indicated it would use its discretion to allow Omar and Tlaib entry “out of respect for the US Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America,” as Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer framed it.
  • In Benjamin Netanyahu’s reversing his original decision to allow Tlaib and Omar into the country, he kowtowed to President Donald Trump, who tweeted this morning demanding that they not be allowed in. The President said that they “hate Israel & all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” President Trump has turned to weaponization of false charges of anti-Semitism as a favored political tactic. This tweet comes just days after Donald Trump reportedly instructed his advisers that Israel should enforce its 2017 law that allows Israel to bar individuals from entering the country on the basis of their political belief in order to bar the Congresswomen he has singled out for political attack. In July, in an overtly racist appeal, the President called for these Congress women of color to “go back” to the countries they came from.
  • Over the last few years, we have seen how the Israeli government has mobilized every ministry to mark its political enemies, increasingly turning its border crossings into interrogation chambers of political critics. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are not the first to be subjected to political litmus tests by Israel at its border, but they are the first members of Congress to be denied entry.
  • Refusing entry to American Congresswomen is an appalling escalation of a longstanding practice that has targeted visitors of Palestinian or Arab descent, as well as leftists and those who are not Jewish, with extra scrutiny at the border.
  • In 2017, it became clear that the Israeli government was using Canary Mission data to target Jewish anti-occupation activists at the border as well. (See more info below).
  • The notion that a member of the U.S. Congress – of any party – would be barred entry from a country the United States considers a trusted ally and to which American citizens have provided cumulatively $142.3 billion in aid, is an outrage that every American should see as an affront. And it is an affront to every Israeli who cherishes the principles of free expression and the right to dissent in their own country.

Background on the Progressive Ban

  • In March 2017 the Knesset passed an amendment to the Entry into Israel Law (Amendment No. 28) — or “The Progressive Ban” — barring from entry into Israel any person who “knowingly published a public call to engage in a boycott against the State of Israel or has made a commitment to participate in such a boycott.” The Law defined boycott in such a way as to equate boycotts of Israel with boycotts of Israeli settlements – “an area under its control.”
  • The bill was originally introduced by MK Yinon Magal of the far-right settler Jewish Home party. It was designed to give Israel the capability to harass and punish those who oppose a settler and ultranationalist agenda.
  • The New Israel Fund strongly opposed the Progressive Ban (the amended Entry to Israel Law) and spoke out against it publicly. We said that Netanyahu government’s Progressive Ban, “which uses blacklists and litmus tests to bar progressive visitors from entering Israel based on their beliefs, flies in the face of the democratic principles enshrined in Israel’s declaration of independence.”

We oppose the law for two reasons:

  • Because Israel, like any democracy, should not use political litmus tests to decide who may and may not enter the country.
  • Because the law makes no distinction between those who boycott settlements or settlement products and those who boycott all of Israel. This is designed to reinforce the Netanyahu-settler policy of erasing the Green Line.

Our position has not wavered. NIF does not support the global BDS movement, but we know that it’s profoundly anti-democratic to discriminate against those who advocate for nonviolent strategies just because the government doesn’t agree with their views.

Implementation of the Progressive Ban Policy

The history of this policy’s implementation makes clear that the denial of Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib entry to Israel is not the first instance of Israel’s application of a political litmus test at its border. In July 2017, it became clear that the Israeli government was using a set of criteria to enforce this anti-democratic law at the border. In October 2018, it was revealed that Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs was relying on materials provided by the blacklist website “Canary Mission,” that lists college students and others who criticize Israel. This, in addition to years of racial profiling of Arabs and Palestinians at the border. Over the last two years, here are instances of political profiling at the airport:

  • Jen Spitzer: NIF’s own Vice President, Jen Spitzer, was detained and interrogated at Ben Gurion airport because of her work with NIF, suggesting that the policy of intimidation and silencing at the border extends to lifelong supporters of Israel.
  • Peter Beinart: In August 2013, prominent liberal Jewish journalist Peter Beinart was detained and interrogated at Ben Gurion Airport. NIF denounced the detention, saying that the Prime Minister was turning Israel’s “border crossings into interrogation chambers.”
  • Meyer Koplow: In July 2018, prominent Jewish philanthropist and chair of Brandeis University’s board of trustees Meyer Koplow was detained by officials at Ben Gurion Airport because he had visited the West Bank as a participant on “Encounter,” a nonpartisan organization that brings Jews to Palestinian areas to hear from Palestinians firsthand.
  • Laura Mandel: In April 2019, Laura Mandel, a former NIF staff member, was aggressively questioned at Ben Gurion Airport after she told Israeli security officials the purpose of her visit was to attend a board meeting of the Abraham Initiatives, a nonprofit that promotes coexistence for Jewish and Arab citizens. The New Israel Fund condemned the government’s detention of Laura, noting that it was “as if the very idea of equality is cause for alarm.”
  • Simone Zimmerman and Abby Kirschbaum: In August 2018, Abby Kirschbaum and Simone Zimmerman were detained at the Taba border crossing between Egypt and Israel and interrogated by the Shin Bet regarding their opinions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. NIF grantee the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) submitted complaints to Israel’s Attorney General’s Office with respect to the behavior of Shin Bet agents.
  • Moriel Rothman-Zecher: In the summer of 2018, Moriel Rothman-Zecher was questioned at Ben Gurion airport about his ties with NIF grantee and human rights organization Breaking the Silence.
  • Lara Alqasem: In October 2018, Palestinian-American student Lara Alqasem was detained at Ben Gurion Airport, preventing her from commencing her studies at Hebrew University. The New Israel Fund spoke out and celebrated the High Court’s decision to allow her entry as a “strong rebuke to overzealous, anti-democratic politicians.”

We know that Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are not the first to be subjected to this treatment. Barring Democratic Members of Congress Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib is an escalation of a longstanding practice that has targeted visitors of Palestinian or Arab descent. The notion that a member of the U.S. Congress — of any party – would be barred entry from a country the United States considers a trusted ally — is an outrage that every American should see as an affront.

Read NIF’s official statement »

# # #