The Israeli government has moved to allow U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) enter the country on humanitarian grounds to visit her grandmother, although Tlaib has nevertheless decided against a visit under the circumstances. Israel’s latest action marks an apparent reversal of an earlier decision to deny entry to Rep. Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who were planning a political tour of the West Bank. But in simply demonstrating that they have the power to squander the American representatives’ plans, Israel and the Trump administration have already gotten what they wanted out of this affair.

The announcement of the entry ban yesterday was presented as the product of American pressure applied against a reluctant Israeli prime minister. There can be little doubt that President Trump interfered in Israeli policymaking. However, blocking Tlaib and Omar perfectly matches the illiberal streak that has characterized many Israeli government policies recently. To be sure, if Netanyahu really had strong objections to blocking the congresswomen, he could have pushed back. This is, after all, the Israeli prime minister who flouted his benefactors in the Obama administration to speak to Congress without the president’s blessing.

Two common threads in the backlash against the entry ban are the claims that Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu are afraid of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and that denying their visit to the West Bank signals weakness. While these are both completely fair arguments, it is important to understand that the American president and Israeli prime minister do not see things this way. 

Let’s first tackle the assertion that Israel and the United States fear what the two American representatives will see in the occupied territories if they go. This is an extension of the oft-repeated catechism that the best antidote to anti-Israel attitudes is to let would-be detractors experience the Jewish state in person. But this is a fundamentally liberal-democratic lens for understanding things that prioritizes a free exchange of ideas. It’s an outlook we can be sure Trump and Bibi do not share.

Lately, the Israeli government has demonstrated no compunctions about openly broadcasting its intentions for West Bank annexation, an outcome that would formalize an undemocratic regime over the territories. Cabinet officials openly muse about annexation, as does the prime minister, who once paid lip service to the two-state solution. Earlier this week, twenty-one members of Knesset even sent a letter to Congress to remind American legislators that two states is not official Israeli policy. Nothing is being hidden on the Israeli end. The itinerary for Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s West Bank tour was also prepared in advance, so there would be no surprises about what they were going to encounter. In reality, everyone knew that the two congresswomen already had strongly held views on Israel and their trip to the West Bank was unlikely to alter them in any significant way.

It’s comforting to think of Trump and Netanyahu as vulnerable and afraid, but blocking Tlaib and Omar is the type of action is one they know their respective right-wing bases will see as a sign of strength. “Keep them out” is fully compatible with “lock her up” and “send her back;” each of these sentiments reflect a belief that the appropriate way to deal with critics is to use blunt force to silence them, not because Trump and Bibi are weak but simply because they hold the power. 

Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s government is barring Tlaib’s and Omar’s entry at the same time as the prime minister is cultivating a campaign season image of himself as the sole competent steward of Israel’s foreign relations, with banners depicting Bibi embracing Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Narendra Modi. This outward presentation requires the prime minister score victories against veritable enemies, even if those foes are actually inconsequential to Israeli national security. Now that Rashida Tlaib is being allowed into Israel on humanitarian grounds, critics of Trump and Netanyahu may claim victory. But the Palestinian-American Rep.Tlaib never wanted to have to rely on Israeli goodwill in order to visit her family’s homeland, as evinced in her decision to forego a trip.

The Tlaib-Omar crisis also coincides with a brewing controversy and potential legal consequences for the prime minister’s Likud party over the placement of hidden cameras in Arab polling stations during April’s Knesset election. Rather than conceal their behavior, the contractors Likud hired for that operation bragged about their actions on social media, again reflecting a view that intimidation, suppression, and harassment are legitimate ways to deal with political rivals.

Donald Trump tweeted yesterday that allowing Reps. Tlaib and Omar to enter Israel “would show great weakness.” We should take the president at his word: for Trump and for Netanyahu, a strong leader sidelines their opponents rather than engage them. Those who chide Trump and Bibi for weakness in not allowing Tlaib and Omar to “see the truth” are appealing to a liberal logic that prioritizes facts and substantive discourse, and they are bound to be disappointed again by a president and prime minister who ascribe no value to either of those things.