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

The decision to ban Omar and Tlaib is so unpopular that even those who normally back Netanyahu have trouble seeing any benefit in barring the lawmakers just to indulge Trump

US President Donald Trump (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embrace prior to signing a Proclamation on the Golan Heights in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, March 25, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)
US President Donald Trump (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embrace prior to signing a Proclamation on the Golan Heights in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House, March 25, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

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.

  • “This is a moment when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have not only sought to establish a little distance between his government and the White House, but also ignored the advice coming from the Twitter account of @realDonaldTrump,” opines JNS editor Jonathan Tobin.
  • Many others on the right simply ignore the decision, or play it down, like Makor Rishon, which makes do with a laconic story reporting that the “anti-Semites” are not being allowed to come.
  • Netanyahu-backing Israel Hayom cheers the move on its front page with the headline “no entry for Israel haters.”
  • But even there nobody is under the impression that much good will come of barring Tlaib and Omar. Columnist Ariel Kahane calls the about-face “a serious mistake,” and musters little to defend the move other than “sometimes there are hard dilemmas.”

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.

  • “When Trump talks, Netanyahu obeys,” writes Yedioth’s Orly Azulay.
  • “All of the subjective and justified reasons that led Netanyahu and his advisers to initially allow Tlaib and Omar’s visit mean nothing when pitted against a perceived slight to Trump’s prestige,” Chemi Shalev writes in Haaretz.
  • Channel 13’s Barak Ravid, who was the first to report on the US pressure to reverse course, writes that “Netanyahu needs Trump to help him win the elections for the 22nd Knesset, and so Netanyahu’s political interests took precedence over Israel’s political interests.”
  • Yedioth’s Shimrit Meir writes that “eventually Israel’s interests had to crash into the Trumpist interests, and the result is that [Israel is] totaled.”

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.

  • JTA’s Cnaan Liphshiz notes that Israel bans lawmakers from friendly countries all the time, just not from the US: “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.”
  • And as of Friday morning, it looks like an elegant solution has been found, at least for Tlaib, who applies for a special permit to visit her family in the West Bank.
  • Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan backs her visit (at least until Trump decides to weigh in). Haaretz’s Noa Landau notes however that it’s not his call.

 

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.

  • Yedioth Ahronoth leads off its paper with an exclusive report that an IDF general, Rafi Milo, “nearly sparked a war” a few months ago when he decided to take a trip through one of the just-discovered Hezbollah cross border tunnels with a few elite soldiers to see what was on the other side.
  • Oh, and he decided to do so in the dead of night without letting anyone know.
  • What Milo found on the other side was the Lebanese village of Ramieh, and a heap of trouble once the army got wind of it, stalling his promotion, according to the report, though he did return without incident.
  • “I made a judgment error,” he’s quoted as saying. “But I’m a combat commander. I can’t not go into the tunnel to see it to the end.”

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.

  • The paper says it pored over thousands of documents and spoke to dozens of people to uncover a disturbing pattern of conflicts of interest, miscounted ballots and other irregularities that authorities seem content to sweep under the rug.
  • “Even though many precincts did report irregularities, none of the vote tallies from the 10,000 or so precincts around the country were disqualified in the April election or even flagged as problematic by a judge,” the paper reports, though it notes that it’s unclear how the judges can actually be expected to review the precincts under their auspices.
  • “The judges each had between 200 and 900 precincts that they were responsible for. The prospect that they could actually review the results of all of them in the four or five hours that they had to accomplish the task was slim.”
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