On August 15, 2019, the US Ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, issued a statement supporting Israel’s decision to bar Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) from entering the country due to their support for Boycotts, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel as a way to promote Palestinian human rights. In applauding this move, the Ambassador stated “The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is not free speech.”
Defending Rights & Dissent is deeply concerned by an official statement by the US Ambassador to Israel stating that boycotts against Israel are “not free speech.” It is deeply chilling for any US official to make such a statement. It is even more disturbing, because it was made in his official capacity, and thus appears to constitute the official policy of the Trump Administration. Boycotts for political change like the BDS movement are core political speech. While the First Amendment does not apply to Israeli government, blanket statements from US officials indicating that certain political views are not free speech is unacceptable.
Tlaib and Omar planned to visit Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories to meet with peace activists and other civil society leaders. Rep. Omar serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and thus has oversight responsibilities over how Israel uses US military aid. Rep. Tlaib is a Palestinian-American and has family who lives in the Occupied West Bank.
Israeli law bars from entering the country individuals who call for boycotts of Israel or “any area under its control” (i.e. settlements). The law allows the Foreign Minister to issue an exemption on a case by case basis. It had been reported that given the potential ramifications of denying entry to members of the US Congress, Israel was planning on admitting the two members of Congress. In the run up to this decision, Donald Trump took to social media to call on Israel to bar them entry, stating to do otherwise “would show great weakness.”
It is improper and unacceptable for the President of the United States to lobby a foreign government to bar any US person, especially members of Congress with fact finding responsibilities, from entering their country due to their political views. The First Amendment protects US persons right to receive information and ideas, including from foreign persons. For a US official was to attempt to sabotage two US members of Congress from engaging in fact finding, because of their political views or the views of those they wished to learn from, poses a major affront to that right.