The Israeli Knesset passed a law prohibiting foreigners, who support the “BDS” movement, known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel, from traveling to Israel. As a matter of fact, in November 2017, 20 members of the European Parliament who wanted to travel to Israel were denied entry because they were “BDS supporters.”
Israel's travel ban against the two Muslim members of the U.S. Congress led to tensions both within the Israeli Lobby and between Israel and the Democrats. Mainstream Democrats are on the same side as Republicans when it comes to supporting Israel. Recently, however, support for Israel has been declining, especially among young Democrats. The fact that this trend is gaining momentum among Democrats in Congress is also disturbing the lobby.
U.S. President Donald Trump, on the other hand, wants to draw American Jews, who tend to vote for Democrats, to join the ranks of the Republican Party. Trump accuses Democrats of being anti-Israel and calls on American Jews to stop supporting them. The mainstream Israeli lobby, on the other hand, does not want to disrupt its relations with the Democrats. Because the passing of pro-Israel resolutions and bills at the U.S. Congress depends on bipartisanship.
The American-Israeli Public Relations Committee (AIPAC) organizes travel tours to Israel every year for members of Congress. Israel’s ban on U.S. Congress’s Palestinian-born Rashida Tlaib and Somalia-born lawmaker Ilhan Omar from traveling to occupied Palestinian territories elicited a reaction even from the AIPAC. Steny Hoyer, the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives, who was among those attending AIPAC's trip to Israel this month, warned that the travel ban would damage the major alliance between the U.S. Congress and Israel. Hoyer accused U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Ron Dermer, of lying, saying, "This initiative is against the assurances given to me by the Israeli ambassador to the United States."
The Israeli government had at first allowed Omar and Tlaib to visit. Tlaib would also visit her grandmother in the West Bank. However, Netanyahu changed his mind after Trump asked him not to let Omar and Tlaib, whom he accused of being anti-Israel, enter the country. On the other hand, there are general elections in Israel in September. Netanyahu also believes that the visit of two Muslim members of the Congress will not be an issue for right-wing Jewish voters.
The Israeli government later announced that Tlaib was “conditionally allowed to visit her grandmother in the West Bank. However, Tlaib announced that she had given up this journey and declared that she would continue the struggle against the repressive and racist policies of the Israeli government.
The fact that two members of the U.S. Congress did not enter Israel divided the “Israeli Lobby.” Democratic Jewish Organizations strongly criticized the decision, while some Republican Jewish ones praised it. Organizations that criticize the travel ban include the American Jewish Committee (AJC), Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), Israeli Forum Policy (IFP), Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), Jewish Federation of North America (JFNA), Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and J Street. All these organizations, despite their strong opposition to the BDS, also criticize the traveling ban on members of Congress. The American Zionist Organization (ZOA) and the Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) strongly supported the travel ban.
The travel ban imposed on Omar and Tlaib seems to deepen the Israel rift between Democrats and Republicans. Mainstream organizations of the Israeli Lobby are worried that Netanyahu will hedge all his bets on Trump, which will weaken the Israeli-U.S. alliance and the traditional bipartisan Israeli support in Congress.