Recently, the Israeli government denied visas to two U.S. congresswomen: Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. The action comes shortly after President Donald Trump stated on Twitter that “it would show great weakness” if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. Reps. Tlaib and Omar are vocal supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement. This was the justification of denying their visits, as Israeli law bars entry to individuals who support the BDS movement.
This is something that should alarm all of us. It is a flagrant freedom of speech violation. Of course, we live by different laws in the United States, but that doesn’t mean we can’t look at this act as going directly against freedom of speech. This action — and its justification, for that matter — is wrong. Why? It is right out of George Orwell’s “1984.” If you support peaceful economic pressure to bring an end to an illegal occupation, you’re banned. Think about it in another context: what if the U.S. government denied entry to any person who supports a boycott of the U.S. government because of Guantanamo Bay, for example? What if the President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, banned any person from entering the country who supports an oil boycott because of human rights abuses? In any other instance, it is clearly evident that to ban someone simply for their political views is against the spirit of free speech, and if that is something we value, then it follows that we ought to be against its violation.
Furthermore, I would like to add some context to this conflict. When I stated “an illegal occupation,” that’s not just my opinion; that is what has been ruled internationally multiple times. A 2004 International Court of Justice ruling deemed the construction of an Israeli wall in occupied Palestinian territories illegal. In addition, the United Nations has ruled multiple times condemning the settlements in occupied Palestine. For example, in 2016, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 2334, which condemned the settlements in the West Bank. Some may argue that one can’t look at the international consensus because there are many in the Middle East and around the world who are very anti-Semitic and believe in the elimination of Israel and the Jewish people, but this resolution was voted on, almost unanimously, by countries including the U.K., France, Japan, New Zealand and Spain. Are all of these countries just acting in horrible anti-Semitic malice? I argue not. They looked at the evidence and concluded that the settlements are illegal and condemned them. However, this is not to say anti-Semitism is not a large problem that doesn’t deserve attention as well — it most certainly does. For example, the “Proud Boys,” a group the Anti-Defamation League described as “overtly Islamophobic and misogynistic … anti-Semitic and racist,” recently held a rally in Portland. There were upwards of 1,200 people at the rally.
There is nothing inherently anti-Semitic, nor wrong, with supporting boycotts of the occupied territories. Representatives such as Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar being denied entry is a blatant attack on the spirit of free speech. Meanwhile, the justification used in barring their entry is based on a broad generalization — one that groups true anti-Semites in with people who are merely critical of the treatment of Palestinians and occupation of their rightful land.
Seth Gully is a sophomore triple-majoring in philosophy, politics and law, economics and French.