Memo to Omar and Tlaib: A Nobel Peace Prize Awaits!

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Dear Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib:

My brother called me on Friday.  He was pretty upset.  He lives in Northern Israel, just a few kilometers from the border with Lebanon. I asked him why he was so upset.  He told me that he was angry at the two of you, who have both been the center of attention recently.  My brother felt that Israel’s Prime Minister made the right decision in banning you from the country.

I thought a lot about that phone call.  I definitely understand his feelings. Both of you spurned the invitation to join together with your colleagues, 41 Democrats and 31 Republicans in a fact-finding visit to Israel where they met with not just Israeli officials and citizens, but with Palestinian officials and citizens as well.  Instead, you planned your own separate itinerary, organized by Miftah, an organization that, according to the New York Times, “has proudly praised female suicide bombers and pushed the medieval blood libel.”

But for a moment, let’s forget about all of that.  Let’s forget for the moment that since you were elected to Congress, both of you have led the charge against Israel, especially supporting the BDS Movement which has the goal of delegitimizing the Jewish state. Let’s forget for the moment about President Trump’s tweets calling Israel weak if it allowed you into the country.  Let’s forget for the moment about Israel’s Prime Minister refusing to allow you into the country unless you promised not to promote an agenda of criticizing and disparaging the Jewish state. Let’s take your animus towards Israel and all of the brouhaha and compartmentalize it.

For the moment.

Let me suggest to you both that no matter how one feels about Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to ban you from visiting Israel (Your itinerary actually never mentioned Israel—-“Palestine” was your destination), the crux of the issue is that each of you as congresswomen ought to do what all elected officials should do when expressing anger and bias:  Take steps to manage it.  You can begin that process by stopping the vilification of Israel and making the time to go to Israel and to the West Bank and meet with officials and citizens of both sides. Use your influential positions to facilitate a resolution to the conflict.  Given your Muslim faith and Congresswoman Tlaib’s Palestinian heritage, you are both in the unique position, unlike any other member of congress or president, to bring to the table, Israelis and Palestinians, in an effort to find common ground and create a framework for a two-state solution.

Before your trip, I would suggest that you read up on the 1947 Partition Plan (https://learning.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/11/29/nov-29-1947-united-nations-partitions-palestine-allowing-for-creation-of-israel/) which the United Nations adopted and which Israel accepted and the Arabs rejected. You should review the historical facts of the many times Israel offered the Palestinians land for peace which were all rejected by the Palestinian leadership.  For example, at a summit convened by President Clinton in 2000, Israel offered the Palestinians a state with land that included 92% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, along with a capital in East Jerusalem. After the Palestinian Authority rejected that offer, Israel modified that offer in 2001 to include 97% of the West Bank.   Again, the answer was no. In 2008 another offer was made and was rejected. And in 2009, when President Obama put pressure on Israel resulting in a 10-month settlement freeze as a gesture to re-start negotiations, the Palestinians refused to even come to the negotiating table. As part of your preparation, study a map of the Middle East and see how vulnerable Israel (the size of New Jersey) is, to countries like Lebanon, Syria and Iran, who remain hostile to the Jewish state.  You should also study the negotiations which resulted in peace agreements between Israel, Egypt and Jordan.

I would strongly recommend that you also read about and see in action, first-hand, the work of an Arab-Israeli Organization called Hand-in-Hand, co-founded by Israeli Arab educator Amin Khalaf and Israeli American educator Lee Gordon (https://handinhandk12.org/).  The organization is a network of integrated, bilingual schools for Jewish and Arab children in Israel.  It is a model of co-existence and it could be beneficial for you both to meet with students, faculty and parents.  The project is considered to be one of the most innovative integrated social movements, impacting more than 10,000 people every day, proving that Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians can live together peacefully.

Some may think that you are filled with such hatred towards Israel and that you will never change your views.  And maybe that is the reality.  But I remember that Apple “Think Different” commercial from 1997 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cFEarBzelBs):

“The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

And so, I hope that you both seriously contemplate “thinking differently” and consider these suggestions. Make that trip to Israel and the West Bank. Use your influence to bring the parties together to once and for all achieve what has been seemingly unachievable. There is no guarantee that you would be successful.  But, if  you were successful, you certainly would be deserving to receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

About the Author
Reuven Taff has served as the rabbi and spiritual leader of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, California since 1995. A trained Hazzan and Educator, he served as Cantor and Educational Director of Beth El Congregation in Phoenix, Arizona and Headmaster of Gesher Jewish Day School of Northern Virginia. He can be contacted at rabbi@mosaiclaw.org.
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