The Right Decision // Interior Minister Aryeh Deri shares the backstory on denying entry to two anti-Israel US congresswomen

By Chaim Friedlander

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri never imagined that he would end up in the eye of an international political storm. On one side, he had senior members of the Democratic Party of the United States calling his decision to bar Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar from entering Israel “a terrible mistake,” but on the other, President Trump was saying that allowing them in would “show great weakness” because of their support for BDS. Despite pressure from all sides Deri clung to his position, granting permission to Tlaib to only enter on humanitarian grounds so she could visit her grandmother but denying entry to Omar. After first agreeing to those conditions, Tlaib then changed her mind and turned down the opportunity, which, as Deri said, showed the world that “her hatred for Israel is greater than her love for her grandmother.”

For his part, Deri would like to put this all behind him and devote his time to the upcoming elections, which are now less than a month away. His goal for the Shas Party is to increase the number of seats it occupies in the Knesset from eight to ten. He’s been traveling around the country from one campaign event to the next, and as far as he’s concerned, the entire Tlaib/Omar episode belongs to history. However, because of the large amount of disinformation being spread about it, he agreed to explain the entire chain of event to Ami’s readers.

“I believe it’s unnecessary to state how much the State of Israel in general, and I in particular, respect the US Congress and its members, on both sides of the aisle. But as Interior Minister, I am duty-bound to act according to Israeli law, which forbids entry to any BDS activist or supporter who works for the delegitimization of Israel. Unfortunately, there are many such people, and I have to deny them entry on an almost daily basis. This includes members of the German and French Parliaments, among others.”

Deri insists that Israel has no problem with people who are critical of Israel’s positions, as long as that criticism doesn’t include calls for its destruction. “Just two weeks ago a delegation of 70 Congress members, 41 of whom are Democrats, visited Israel, and some of them were very critical of Israel’s policies. They were permitted to travel freely and they visited with both the prime minister and Palestinian officials. We are a democratic country and we allow anyone to see what’s really going on. Incidentally, had Talib and Omar joined that delegation, we wouldn’t have stopped them.”

Going back to how it all began, Minister Deri says, “About a month ago, Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, told me that some Democratic Party officials had asked him if the two congresswomen would be allowed in. This means that from the very beginning they knew that it would be legally problematic for them to enter the country. We held discussions and let them know that we would be willing to consider allowing them in to show our respect for the Democrats, and avoid creating a rift between them and Israel. However, we also told them that the permit would only be given after they sent us their planned itinerary. We received the itinerary a few days ago and were very disappointed. This wasn’t a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority; it was a visit that had only one goal: to discredit Israel in the eyes of the world. They planned on visiting the refugee camps and security fence, without hearing Israel’s side at all. We also discovered that their trip was being funded by an organization that was founded by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Once we realized that their entire itinerary was devoted to anti-Israel propaganda, we couldn’t allow them in. After discussing it with the prime minister, the foreign minister and other officials I made the decision to bar them.”

Deri stresses that “I asked the ambassador to explain to the Democratic leaders in Congress the reason for our refusal. I wanted them to understand that it wasn’t personal; it was a matter of Israeli law, which we felt under the circumstances could not be waived.”
According to Deri, the intensity of the outrage against Israel was unjustified. “America would never allow a foreign citizen who constantly attacked it into the country, and it wouldn’t matter if he was a member of any parliament in the world. It wasn’t that long ago [2012] that the Obama administration barred MK Michael Ben-Ari from coming to the US. And a few years before that [2005] the Bush administration denied entry to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the chief minister of Gujarat, a state that is far larger than Israel in both size and population. Every democratic nation has laws that allow it to protect itself, and that’s exactly what we did in this case.”

To read more, subscribe to Ami