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 personae non gratae.
That’s a significant difference, given the closeness of the U.S.-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.
In 2017, Israel barred the entry of a lawmaker from France’s National Assembly — the lower house in parliament — from 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. Israeli law defined BDS calls as grounds for a lawsuit in 2011.
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 E.U. 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.
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.” pjc