Two Congresswomen; One Democracy: Israel’s Poor Decision

By

Leonard Zwelling

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/16/opinion/israel-omar-tlaib-netanyahu.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

As this blog has written before, the criticism aimed at the four freshman Congresswomen known as the Squad is well founded. They have expressed anti-Semitic ideology and anti-Israeli positions. Two of these women are Muslims, the first Muslim women ever elected to the U.S. House. One is Rashida Tlaib, a representative from Michigan whose family roots are Palestinian, but who is a native American, and who has a grandmother living on the West Bank. The other is the far more controversial and confrontational Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a naturalized Somali who has made outrageous statements about the influence of lobbying on the U.S. government’s position in relation to Israel.

As I have written, it is perfectly fine to defend them against the onslaught of hate hurled at them via tweet by President Trump while still disagreeing with their politics and statements toward Israel and towards Jews. In fact, it’s critical. If the Democrats allow President Trump to paint the Squad as the face of the Democratic Party, he will fracture support for Israel among Americans along party lines. This is bad for America and worse for Israel.

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/16/us/politics/trump-israel.html?searchResultPosition=1

Now these two, like so many other congresspersons, had wanted to travel to Israel. In particular, Representative Tlaib wanted to visit her grandmother on the West Bank. At the urging of President Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has denied their entry into Israel, although he has partially reversed himself in the case of Tlaib on humanitarian grounds. (She said, “never mind”).

This is absolute foolishness in a democracy. Anyone who wishes to travel to a free land like Israel or America, even those who object to the official positions of the governments, should be allowed in. They pose no threat to anyone in Israel or the West Bank and perhaps seeing what Israel truly is would open their eyes to the truth about the situation on the ground. It is far more complicated than they would have you believe and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel that they support is wholly unjustified. Apparently, Tlaib also supports a one-state solution to the Palestinian question. That’s a perfectly legitimate point of view even if it is not one shared by many in Israel or Washington.

Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu have a history and it is not a pretty one. They both seem pretty sleazy around the edges. Both may face formal legal charges once they are out of office and both will do anything to stay in office as it represents a haven from jail. Israel is far too important a democracy to allow petty differences about policy to interfere with its policy of allowing American politicians to visit.

If Representatives Omar and Tlaib were taken to Yad Vashem, the Western Wall. The Jewish Quarter and technology hub between Tel Aviv and Haifa perhaps they would understand why Israel cannot simply give up hard won territory to the people who tried to push them into the sea in 1948, 1967 and 1973. It is also likely that they would have visited Area C in the West Bank, where the Israeli settlements have flourished, much to the chagrin of the Palestinian Arabs. Undoubtedly, the visit by the two congresswomen would have highlighted this, something Mr. Netanyahu would not like at all.

I understand that the Arab population of the land between Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea needs a homeland. Some argue that ought to be Jordan itself, but the Jordanians do not wish to harbor the Palestinian Arabs. At every turn in the 70-year history of the land of Israel, when a solution could be reached with the Arabs, the Arabs managed to undermine it. Even today, there is no functional Palestinian government that truly represents the interests of the Arabs of the region whether it is those in the West Bank or in Gaza.

But that’s for another day. For now, the more Americans of all stripes who visit Israel and the West Bank the better. They will begin to understand how complex the region is and how far away from a solution things are. Keeping people who disagree with you out of your house does not promote understanding and understanding is what is needed between supporters of Israel and those backing the Palestinian cause.

There’s room for everyone in America and there’s room for everyone in Israel, especially if they are coming just to visit and to learn. If Israel becomes a wedge issue between Democrats and Republicans, it is bad for both America and for Israel.

Leonard Zwelling