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Israel

Putting the flop in flip-flop: 8 things to know for August 16

1. Let my critics come: Israel’s decision to bar US lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaaib gets less than rave reviews in the mainstream Israeli press Friday, not because there is much love lost for the two BDS supporters, but because it’s seen as an unnecessary departure from Israel’s democratic ideals and a poke in the eye of Israel’s most important ally.

  • “A correct and dumb decision,” reads the headline of a column by Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ben Dror Yemini.
  • Speaking to Army Radio, Dan Arbel, formerly deputy ambassador to Washington calls the decision “puzzling at best and problematic at worst. Instead of letting the visit disappear within a week, we gave them a gift and blew the story up.”
  • Writing for JTA, NYU law professor Thane Rosenbaum calls the planned trip by Tlaib and Omar “intellectually dishonest and morally vulgar,” but says that is exactly why they should be allowed in: “Let them come. Israel, after all, is an open society, and it has nothing to fear from two politicians out for a hateful joy ride.” (He adds the caveat that they should be forced to take the Hasbara train around Israel first, though.)
  • “While I understand the desire to close the door to people who have been extremely negative towards Israel, who have made anti-Semitic comments, and who promote and defend the boycott movement against my country, I think it’s the wrong move. Not allowing them into the country simply feeds their narrative that Israel is intolerant, has something to hide, and is bigoted,” writes Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll in The Forward.

2. Hate the players and the game: Even on the right, many who normally line up behind Netanyahu have a hard time doing so.

3. Netanyahu? Never heard of him: “You don’t need to explain to Netanyahu how bad it is, he knows himself,” writes Walla’s Amir Oren, who says it’s clear that the prime minister was all for the pair to visit until US President Donald Trump got involved.

  • Speaking in a conference call organized by the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer insists that Israel made the decision itself. “We were not pressured by the Trump administration to do this and this is a sovereign decision that Israel has to make,” JTA quotes him saying.
  • Nobody is buying it. Even Trump did little to hide it, tweeting that Israel would look weak if they let them in and telling reporters that he doesn’t know why Israel would do such a thing like letting them visit, even while insisting that he didn’t “encourage or discourage” anything.
  • “With his tweet, Trump removed any doubts, even though Israel had not yet made the official announcement at the time of his writing. It was clear that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not dare to openly disagree with Trump,” ToI’s Raphael Ahren writes.
  • A source involved in the Israeli deliberations confirms it to Reuters: “In a discussion held two weeks ago all the officials were in favor of letting them in, but after Trump’s pressure, they reversed the decision.”
  • Channel 12 reports that Netanyahu and Trump spoke on the phone several times in the days leading up to the reversal. Trump tells reporters he held discussions with Israelis, and while he refuses to say with whom, it’s hard to imagine him calling to chat with Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who couldn’t even get a meeting with Mike Pompeo last time he was in Washington.

4. Massaging Trump, mortgaging Israel: Giving in to Trump is not a good look for Netanyahu, who is portrayed as little better than a quisling, nor a good look for Trump, who is seen as petulant and needing to have his ego stroked and enemies put down.

5. To indignation and beyond: ToI’s Ahren and others write that the affair may spell the end for bipartisan support of Israel in Congress.

  • “The problem isn’t the two representatives, or even the boycott Israel movement, which has amounted to nothing. The problem is that Israel is losing the democrats,” writes Nahum Barnea in Yedioth.
  • Others see even worse possible outcomes from the affair.
  • “Israel will now be regulating entry into its country of members of the United States Congress based on their political views toward Israel. Not only is this a dangerously slippery slope, it also marks a breach in the essential ground rules for healthy relations between any two democracies,” David Rothkopf says in Haaretz, calling Netanyahu’s decision “Stunningly short-sighted.”
  • ToI editor David Horovitz writes that the result is no less than Israel ceding the diplomatic battlefield, not just to Democrats, but across the board: “What, from now on, will we be saying to our other potent democratically elected critics from allied countries, those we have hitherto lambasted for not seeing for themselves? You can’t come unless you promise to be nice to us, and to see the things we want you to see? Is that, for example, how we’re going to re-word former Labor leader and current Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog’s previous invitation to the bitterly anti-Israel, anti-Semitic Jeremy Corbyn, who is hoping to become prime minister of Great Britain one day soon, and who we have decried for not making a visit?”

6. Putting things in perspective: Some make note that prophecies of doom may be premature, such as two of my ToI colleagues.

7. Midnight excursion: Shockingly, not only is the Omar Tlaib barathon not the only news, it’s not even top of the list on the Hebrew speaking news agenda.

8. Results you can’t count on: Haaretz leads off its paper with an investigation that it says uncovered widespread fraud, or at least negligence in the last election.

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