This dizzying week has confirmed a number of beliefs. Let me reiterate them. 1) Some members of congress are Israel’s enemies. 2) Barring such enemies from visiting Israel is a terrible mistake. 3) The suggestion that some Jews’ loyalty to Israel should be doubted is divisive and terribly dismaying. Let’s unpack these affirmations.
Representatives Tlaib and Omar support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement who some suggest only wants to end Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank. And while many Jews, and a fair number of Israelis, believe that Israel’s building of settlements and its control over West Bank Palestinians’ freedoms, threatens Israel’s security and undermines Israel’s democracy, the BDS movement really teaches that Zionism and the State of Israel are illegitimate.
Tlaib, for example, supports a one state solution rather than the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state we love and admire. Granting citizenship to all West Bank Palestinians would mean the end of Jewish sovereignty in Israel. Omar, for her part, is given to speaking about Jews and Israel, using antisemitic tropes. True, she apologized for these past mistakes, but still I wonder if she would be able to see Israel in any way but as a caricature of preconceived myths, rather than the truths and facts Israel lives with day in and day out.
I would have liked for Tlaib and Omar to visit Israel with the recent delegation organized by AIPAC, comprised of some forty House Democrats, and led by House Majority leader Steny Hoyer, a stalwart supporter of Israel throughout his many years of government service. They preferred to organize their own trip. While I worried that Tlaib and Omar would only meet with Palestinian leaders and with those whose views hued to their own, I had hoped that by visiting Israel they would come to appreciate, even if only partially, Israel’s strengths and beauties.
I had no illusions. They would have almost certainly returned speaking about some of the hard truths, and uncomfortable facts, that most of us prefer not to speak about. And they would have undoubtedly cast all blame in Israel’s direction and forgiven every sin Palestinian leaders continue to commit. Still I always choose hope. It is a conscious decision. A democracy, most especially one as strong and as bustling and as thriving and as boisterous as Israel’s, can afford to welcome naysayers. Israel can afford to choose hope when approaching representatives of its greatest ally even when these representatives’ views are opposed to Israel’s very survival.
Israel can afford to open its doors to such enemies when those enemies use only words. Fight such enemies with reason and well crafted speeches. Tlaib and Omar are not Hamas and Iran. Not all enemies are battled in the same way and with the same means. By barring these representatives Prime Minister Netanyahu has amplified their small, and heretofore inconsequential, voices. He has provided even more oxygen to the BDS movement who can now claim this instance as one more example of Israel’s anti-democratic tendencies. I worry about these tendencies as well. Yet I believe BDS is not the response of a people who love Israel and want it to do better. It is the response of people who want to destroy Israel as the Jewish state.
Moreover, Tlaib and Omar are members of the United States Congress. Israel depends on bipartisan congressional support. The State of Israel should spend its efforts welcoming all members of Congress whether they criticize Israel or vote in support of it on every issue. The United States is Israel’s foremost ally. Slamming the door in the face of any of its representatives is a slap in the face of all Americans. This is why AIPAC took the nearly unprecedented step of publicly criticizing Israel’s sitting prime minister for his decision to bar these congresswomen.
I have attended a number of AIPAC conferences. Democrats and Republicans speak to the gathering. They are united in their support of Israel. The notion that one party is better for Israel is false. Each party has of course a different vision for what is best for Israel. Some elected officials offer criticisms of Israel’s policies. Senators and representatives have different ideas of what is in Israel’s best interest. That is their right. And that is also their duty to express. As long as Israel continues to accept American foreign aid then members of congress can, and should, express their views about Israel’s policies, even if we believe their views to be mistaken.
And finally, President Trump’s recent suggestion that American Jews who vote for Democrats are disloyal is dangerous and insulting. He said, “Where has the Democratic party gone? Where have they gone where they’re defending these two people over the State of Israel? I think any Jewish people that votes for a Democrat – I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” I say in response. Being Jewish is not transactional. “Give me Jerusalem and I will pledge my devotion.” is not all there is to it.
Commitment to Israel cannot be tallied. “Did you support the Iran deal or fight against it?” is not the yardstick by which love is determined. There are Israelis who supported the Iran deal and those who opposed it. And there are a great many Jews who abhor Tlaib and Omar’s views but believe the commitment to democratic values demand they protect the congresswomen’s rights to speak out. They believe as well that their devotion to a better Israel, and their Jewish command to love the stranger, insists they speak up not only when Jews are in danger but when all people are suffering.
Loving Israel is not about right or left, Democrat or Republican. There are many Democrats who love Israel and there are many Republicans who love Israel. Like any love it is multifaceted and at times, even bewildering and mysterious. Furthermore, President Trump’s implication that we vote only out of self-interest, and about what is best for Israel, comes far too close to the insidious trope of dual loyalty. For centuries our devotion to the countries in which we made our homes has been questioned. It has been suggested that self-interest is what really guides us, that we are not truly French, or German, or American. This is dangerous talk.
This week’s accusation should worry us. We should cringe when we hear such divisive words directed at the Jewish community. We should stand up, united, in defense of our fellow Jews. Loyalty to Israel is not a matter of voting Republican or Democrat. Love of the Jewish people has nothing to do with one’s political party.
There are forces who wish to divide us.
Let us pledge to stand together. Let no one tear us apart.