On the Denial of a Visa to a PLO Spokeswoman

By Dan Cadman on May 16, 2019

Hanan Ashrawi, a high-profile member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) who has for decades been a figure to be reckoned with where negotiations for a lasting peace deal with Israel are concerned, says she has for the first time been denied a visa to come to the United States.

Ashrawi is in many ways a throwback to a time when the PLO, and many other political/revolutionary movements of the period of the 1960s and 70s, were intimately involved in what is generally described as “pan-Arab socialism”. For instance, the Ba'ath parties which took power in both Syria and Iraq were representative of this politico-philosophical view, which was prevalent in many Arab countries of the region before the advent of radical and fundamental Islam.

I mention those two countries for a reason, and that is to put into perspective the propensity to think of the PLO in moderate terms, when compared by way of example to Hamas, or worse, to al Qaeda or the Islamic State or other Islamist terror groups. It takes only a second to think of Bashar al Assad of Syria or his father before him, or of the now-deceased Iraqi tyrant Saddam Hussein, to realize that Arab socialists have also engaged in atrocities not too dissimilar from the worst of the jihadist organizations.

And so it is with the PLO. It would be revisionist history not to remember that the PLO, like its PFLP counterpart, engaged in outrageous terrorist acts in the middle decades of the 20th century. Ashrawi may be an anomaly in that she is extraordinarily intelligent, articulate, and by all outward appearances a thoroughly modern feminist—but she is still a member of a group that by an act of Congress was declared to be a terrorist organization, long before statutory mechanisms were built into the law to permit designation of foreign terrorist organizations by the Secretary of State.

While a State Department spokesman fell back on typical bureaucratic language to say that visa applications and decision-making are confidential by law (which is true), in order to avoid speaking to the particulars of Ashrawi's case, it's worth noting that any time she has in the past visited the United States by means of a visa, that visa also had to be accompanied by a specific waiver granted by the Secretary of State to her in order to overlook her statutory excludability under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) for being a member of the PLO.

And there are other reasons why the government may have decided not to grant her a visa at the present time. The INA also permits the Secretary of State to deny a visa to any individual whose presence might be detrimental to the foreign policy goals of the United States. Ashrawi has made known her disdain—indeed her contempt—for this administration and its policy where Israel and the Palestinian entities (the PLO on the West Bank, Hamas on the Gaza Strip) are concerned. Why, then, should she be permitted to think she has an intrinsic right to entry?

Some would suggest that the visa denial is in order to deny Ashrawi a platform within the United States to criticize current U.S. policy in that troubled region. Perhaps. Consider, though: what affirmative obligation does our government have to permit foreigners such bully pulpits? They have no intrinsic free speech rights from outside the country to demand entry. Consider also: almost certainly there are Venezuelan apologists in our country right now—Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Bernie Sanders quite possibly among them—who might urge granting of a visa to the despotic Nicolas Maduro so that he could come denounce our “imperialist” policy toward the wreck of a nation that he and his cronies have created, if invited by some university or another. Do we have any obligation to allow that to happen? Most assuredly not.

But the case against Ashrawi goes even further. The right to exclude terrorists and their supporters is absolute, and exists as a matter of law and policy whether or not, as she has made known, her children and grandchildren reside in our country. Waivers of excludability on the basis of membership in a terrorist organization are neither mandatory nor indispensable.