Wendy Kalman
There are many ways to see and understand

How to welcome Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib to Israel

This combination of 2018 photos shows Representatives Ilhan Omar (Democrat-Minnesota), left, and Rashida Tlaib (Democrat-Michigan), in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Earlier last week, Congresswomen Ihlan Omar and Rashida Tlaib announced their plan to go to Israel. A flurry of headlines followed; the country might not let them in given a controversial law that allows Israel to prohibit entry to BDS supporters. But Israel’s envoy to the United States, Ron Dermer, let it be known they would be allowed to visit Israel after all.

And then came the discussions online.

Most I saw coming from the Jewish world were very pessimistic about such a visit.

Not me. I think of this as a window.

A visit could be an opportunity to educate, but it must be done in a non-biased and informational way. It could also be a way to course correct the collision course I see the Democratic Party is on.

Why can’t, for instance, the Democratic Majority for Israel, which, as I wrote recently, sent a memo to 2020 Democratic candidates with advice on how to deal with ambushes from IfNotNow, also take it upon themselves as fellow members of the congresswomen’s party, to facilitate fair and balanced meetings during their tours?

I would love for someone to arrange for the congresswomen to meet with Jerusalem Tolerance, for instance, which promotes their own gatherings as well as those of other organizations, all geared towards breaking barriers to neighborliness. Or what about the Teachers’ Lounge, which brings Jewish and Arab teachers together so that what they learn they can bring back to their classrooms. Maybe they want to reach out to Seeds of Peace, whose Middle East programs have reached over 3000 young leaders since 1993.Or a myriad of co-existence foundations and groups who can share with the congresswomen both the challenges and the hopes, and all the stories we don’t read about in the news.

Think about it. What if a respected NGO were to facilitate their visit? Offer Omar and Tlaib to not only see Israeli Arab villages, Areas A, B, C, and Gaza, but also West Bank settlements, Sderot and Gazan border communities? Bring the cameras and let the two get an unvarnshed unstaged look at everything from every angle.

NGOs looking to build coexistence have no interest in whitewashing the truth, because they know these are the battles that have to be tackled. At the same time, those looking to achieve joint progress towards peace know there is no point in demonizing just one side. It will never get anyone from the current state to a future state.

Then there are the individuals; my dream team of who they should meet with includes author Yossi Klein Halevi and academic Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, whose response to Klein Halevi’s Letters to my Palestinian Neighbor is included in the newly released paperback version. I wrote about a joint interview and the book’s reception even in the Arab-speaking world; to understand the long arduous path they took in their personal lives to arrive at a place where they each are now is fascinating and offers hope. If former radicals can believe in peace, why shouldn’t our congresswomen? In fact, both Omar and Tlaib should read the book before they head off to the airport.

How else would I have them prepare? Reach out to Nuseir Yassin, otherwise known as Nas Daily, whose travel videos the world over have earned him a well-deserved following. Amongst the Israeli Arab’s videos on his Facebook page are ones that show the good, the bad and the ugly in the country. He has quite a few and they are worth watching. Last fall, he also opened up his two apartments, one in the West Bank city of Rawabi and the other in Tel Aviv, for his followers to come stay for free, so that they can educate themselves up close. Perhaps Omar and Tlaib would want to see man-on-the-street interviews that Corey Schuster has been carrying out for seven years as part of his Ask an Israeli/Ask a Palestinian Project? That might give them broader perspectives too. They might even want to submit their own question.

Or they could read up to see what Zioness board member and Tablet writer Carly Pildis has to say. Or Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab who’s been writing on Palestinian affairs for decades. Perhaps they’d want to check out the Australian “Imam of Peace” Mohamad Tawhidi on Twitter, Times of Israel social media director and author Sarah Tuttle-Singer or fellow Times of Israel blogger and Gatestone Institute’s Fred Maroun on Facebook. All of these look at the wider picture, all want peace, all offer insights.

In my blog Thoughts on the Israeli Palestinian Stalemate, I wrote what I believe the entire Democratic party – indeed, the world – needs to hear:

I think one can – and should – be both pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian; again, it is not a zero sum game. There is room to make a place for each side’s pain and for each side’s narrative. The danger is when those with pro-Palestinian views think their only way is to be anti-Israel and when those holding pro-Israel views think it necessitates an anti-Palestinian position.

I think neither is true. I think the voices of reason risk getting lost in the hate. We need to find a way to come together to amplify the only voice which envisions what the future could look like.

People may reject the Trump administration’s economic proposal, unveiled in Bahrain, and its political proposal, yet to come, for a number of reasons (I, myself am open to hearing any proposal which looks to the future and cannot understand those who reject it out of hand) but until the Democrats offer up their own vision of how to get from here to there, this is all there is coming out of the United States. Could Omar and Tlaib’s trip, if done properly, facilitate a glimpse, a thought, on how to formulate a party position that could be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinians and pro-peace?

I know I am unduly optimistic about what this trip could lead to, but I want to have hope. For those who expect the two only want to cement their preconceptions, perhaps you are right. But maybe, just maybe, you are wrong.

None of us can predict the future.

Haven’t you read stories of people who thought one way until they learned differently? If Yossi Klein Halevi, a former Kahanist, and Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, a former Fatah activist, can talk about mutual understanding and peace, there is no reason why anyone else can’t.

I want to challenge Omar Ihlan and Rashida Tlaib – if they are truly interested in taking up the cause of the Palestinians, let them prepare a trip that allows them to see a comprehensive picture. Let them learn not just about the hardships of daily life but of the challenges that must be tackled in order to achieve a fair and just future. Let them not be driven by an agenda but look at themselves as fact finders. And, yes, let them be accompanied by documentary filmmakers.

Now, who can help put their itinerary together?

About the Author
Born in Brooklyn and raised on Lawn Guyland, Wendy lived in Jerusalem for over a decade submerged in Israeli culture; she has been soaked in Southern life in metro Atlanta since returning to the U.S. in 2003. Recently remarried, this Ashkenazi mom of three Mizrahi sons, 27, 24 and 19, splits her time between managing knowledge in corporate America, pursuing a dual masters in public administration and integrated global communications, relentlessly Facebooking, enjoying the arts and trying to bring a wider perspective tot he topics she covers while blogging.
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