When Prime Minister Netanyahu announced two weeks ago that Israel would ban Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Israel/Palestine, I immediately checked to see what Congressman Max Rose (D-New York) had to say about it.
Eager to flip the House and bring on the Blue Wave, I had campaigned for Rose for hours in the cold rain this past fall. On the eve of the election, three friends and I schlepped over to southern Brooklyn to do some last minute canvassing. It was a tight race, but ultimately we succeeded in toppling Republican incumbent Dan Donovan and electing a pro-choice, pro-gun control Democrat.
Beyond his party membership, I believed in Max Rose as a public advocate. Rose pledged to fight to lower the age-limit for Medicare and he had a plan to fix our broken transportation infrastructure. To boot, I was proud that Rose, like me, was a Jew from New York City. I understood the two of us as having shared values emerging from a common heritage. In his speeches, I saw reflected back at me our community’s core ethic of caring for the stranger based on our people’s history of exclusion and persecution.
Unfortunately, after a few months in office, I started to have doubts about Rose. In March, Rose sat on a panel of first-year representatives at AIPAC’s annual policy conference, which many Democratic presidential contenders elected to skip. In the face of growing willingness in his party to criticize the Israeli occupation, Rose pledged to fight to “keep things just the way they are.”
I felt totally let down. I have been to Israel/Palestine several times, and last month I saw first hand the way things are in the occupied West Bank. I bore witness to how how Palestinians in East Jerusalem live in constant fear home demolitions and how the Israeli military maintains a vicious system of separation and inequality in the city of Hebron. My Jewish values compel me to support human rights and call out the wickedness of the Occupation. The notion of keeping the Occupation just the way it is offends the historical memory of Jewish persecution throughout the centuries.
Rose recently returned from AIPAC’s tour of Israel for freshmen members of Congress. Leading up to the trip, I joined with IfNotNow, the movement of young American Jews seeking to end our community’s support for the Occupation, in calling on representatives to skip the trip because I knew that it would be nothing more than a “propaganda tour” meant to whitewash Israeli abuses and perpetuate the status quo.
Defenders of the trip had rebuked these accusations, saying it would be balanced and fair, but judging from Rose’s official social media, the trip proved to be exactly what we in IfNotNow predicted. While he was in Israel/Palestine, Rose tweeted a photo of he and his wife smiling by the Kotel in Jerusalem, calling the Old City “a testament to what we can achieve when diverse communities work together towards peace.”
In an interview with Haaretz published after his return, Rose further demonstrated a lack of understanding about the Occupation. Reflecting on what had changed between 2009, when Rose was last in the country, and now, Rose echoed AIPAC’s messaging. “I noticed two things that have changed since my previous visit,” he said. “The first is a lot of economic growth and development, especially in Tel Aviv and Haifa. The second – the new security challenges that have also grown, whether it is [due to] the civil war in Syria, the instability in Gaza, new cyber threats and more.”
Between 2009 and today, Israel has launched three major wars of aggression on Gaza, totally devastating the coastal enclave and then preventing it from rebuilding. Rose chalks that up to “instability.” Israel has continued to expand its illegal settlements in the West Bank, rendering the two-state solution, which Rose supposedly favors, inoperable. An unremarkable development in Rose’s view. Naturally, Israeli security is a priority, but Palestinian security is not even an afterthought.
Days after Rose and the rest of Democratic AIPAC delegation returned to the United States, Trump and Netanyahu decided to ban Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar from entering the country. This decision was quickly condemned across the US political spectrum. However, Rose’s statements have been tepid and uninspiring. He told Haaretz: “This was not the correct way for Israel to advance its own interests. I believe every member of Congress would benefit and learn from visiting Israel, because whenever someone goes to Israel, it becomes immediately apparent to them how real and unique are the security challenges Israel is facing” (emphasis added).
According to Rose, the problem with this week’s decision was that it undermined Israeli interests. Sure, Tlaib and Omar were also wronged, but only because they were deprived of the opportunity to learn how wrong they are.
Crucially, Rose misstated the intention of Tlaib and Omar’s trip. The Congresswomen were not mainly going to see Israel (that is, the internationally-recognized Israeli territory within the Green Line). Tlaib and Omar were going to visit those places in the occupied West Bank that the AIPAC tour does not go. Their trip aimed, among other things, to expose the nightmare of Occupation that Trump and Netanyahu have been trying to obscure from the U.S. public’s view. Indeed, as Forward columnist Peter Beinart tweeted this week, “In addition to asking by [Ilhan Omar] and [Rashida Tlaib] wanted to see the profound injustice in the West Bank, we should ask why the 41 Democrats who went to Israel with AIPAC did not.”
I now put that question directly to Congressman Rose: Why didn’t you want to see the injustices in the West Bank? Why did you avoid confronting the scenes of state violence that I myself witnessed in East Jerusalem and Hebron? Will you keep siding with Trump and Netanyahu in trying to hide the Occupation, or will you name it and condemn it as human rights crisis and moral catastrophe for those who uphold it?
I still hold out hope for you, Congressman, but this hope is fading quickly. If you do not rise to the occasion, I will not brave the rain for you again in 2020.