Israel has been banning politicians for years — just not Americans

Lawmakers from Spain to Ghana have been kept out by Israeli authorities in recent years, though few garner any major outcry, probably because the EU bans people all the time too

Cnaan Liphshiz is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Israeli police officers stand guard at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv , Israel,Thursday, July 7, 2011. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Israeli police officers stand guard at Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv , Israel,Thursday, July 7, 2011. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

JTA — When Israel announced that it would deny entry to Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the decision struck many as an unprecedented step.

But Israel has blocked multiple lawmakers from coming in recent years. The difference this time is that it’s lawmakers from the United States who are being declared persona non grata.

That’s a significant difference, given the closeness of the US-Israel relationship — a link so crucial to Israel that the country’s diplomacy vis-à-vis the United States is often conducted according to its own set of rules.

Such sensitivities could explain the unusual personal involvement of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the issue. Israeli governments have been refusing entry to lawmakers from friendly nations for years with little more than a laconic statement by low-level Interior Ministry officials. This time, Netanyahu made a point of explaining the issue.

Just last month, Fouad Ahmad Assadi, a Lebanon-born lawmaker for Spain’s ruling Socialist Party, was denied entry at Ben Gurion Airport. Israel cited unspecified security reasons.

A Palestinian runs past a poster bearing a portrait of convicted terrorist and prominent Palestinian prisoner Marwan Barghouti in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 3, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

In 2017, Israel barred the entry of a lawmaker from France’s National Assembly — the lower house in parliament — for the far-left France Unbowed movement. The lawmaker, Clémentine Autain, said she was coming to meet Marwan Barghouti, a PLO commander serving multiple life sentences in Israel for the murder of dozens of people in terrorist attacks.

That same year, Israel kept out two French members of the European Parliament, Pascal Durand and Patrick Le Hyaric. The Interior Ministry cited the French lawmakers’ support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

From left, the national secretary of the French Green Party, Cecile Duflot, the head of the Europe Ecologie party, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and the campaign director of the Europe Ecologie party, Pascal Durand, arrive at the Elysee palace for a meeting with French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Wednesday June 18, 2009 in Paris. (AP/Francois Mori)

In 2018, a Ghanaian lawmaker, Ras Mubarak, who has called Israel a “rogue state,” said he was denied entry into it. He had been planning to meet politicians in the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s ambassador to Ghana, Ami Mehl, denied that Mubarak had been barred and said that he would have been allowed to enter had he waited more patiently for background checks to be completed.

Neither the European Parliament nor European governments whose lawmakers were banned from entering Israel have been very vocal about it.

That may be because European countries often bar entry to foreign lawmakers deemed to be troublemakers — including from fellow EU member states and other friendly nations.

In 2009, the United Kingdom barred the Dutch anti-Islam lawmaker, Geert Wilders, from entering its borders, though a court later overturned the ban.

Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders of the PVV party speaks to his supporters during a PVV demonstration against the policy of Prime Minister and his cabinet in Rotterdam, on January 20, 2018. (AFP/ANP/Robin Utrecht)

In 2017, the Netherlands barred two Turkish cabinet ministers from entering because it said they were campaigning among Turkish citizens living in the Netherlands on behalf of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

And, in 2016, British lawmakers in the House of Commons debated a call to ban President Donald Trump, who was then the Republican Party’s nominee for president, over his call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

Trump, who supports Israel’s ban of Omar and Tlaib, was not happy. He threatened to withhold a $1.1 billion investment in Scotland if the ban on him was implemented.

In holding the debate, a spokesperson for the Trump campaign said at the time, the British Parliament was setting a “dangerous precedent” and “sending a terrible message to the world.”

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