Whether or not to permit Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to visit Israel was the subject of heated discussions at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem on Thursday. PM Binyamin Netanyahu said he would decide before the end of the day. The visit is scheduled to begin on Sunday, Aug. 18. Omar and Tlaib will be the guests of the Palestinian Miftah group which is headed by Hanan Ashrawi. They are due to visit Ramallah, Temple Mount, Bethlehem, and the controversial Khan al-Akhmur site outside Jerusalem.
The Knesset majority has promulgated a law authorizing denial of entry to champions of the boycott against Israel. Both congresswomen have repeatedly avowed their support for the BDS movement. An Israeli spokesman told the Washington Post that If Tlaib, an American of Palestinian heritage, made a special humanitarian request to visit her family in the occupied West Bank, then “it would be considered favorably.”
Netanyahu faces a dilemma. Blocking the two congresswomen’s visit will be taken amiss by the US Democratic party and reflect badly on its traditional friendship for Israel, as well as on its reputation for freedom of speech. On the other hand, Netanyahu is fighting an uphill battle for his Likud party’s re-election and his own political future. Any sign of weakness on his part would be seized on and turned against him by his many rivals and further fracture his right-wing base. Granting vocal supporters of the anti-Israel boycott permits to enter Israel in violation of the law, with free rein to use their visit as a platform for spreading their views across world media. would seriously affect his prospects with voters at the September 17 ballot.