Why is Netanyahu Afraid of Tlaib and Omar?

At first, I didn’t believe it when someone said on Thursday night that Netanyahu had backtracked on his agreement to let Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib visit the region. After-all, they are members of the U.S. Congress, and Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Ron Dermer, one of the Prime Minister’s closest associates, had said “Out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America, we would not deny entry to any member of Congress into Israel.” And Tlaib had said she wanted to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, and the Prime Minister of Israel was surely empathetic to that understandable wish.

But on second thought, it was predictable. Netanyahu has built his entire political career based on fanning the flames of fear. The left “has forgotten what it means to be Jews,” ISIS, Iran, BDS, always a new threat, which requires us to be strong, uncompromising, and to elect a strong, articulate leader who really knows how to speak a good English to the rest of the world. Perhaps he didn’t exactly have a good relationship with President Clinton and President Obama, but with a Republican like himself, President Trump, and other nationalist leaders like Putin, Modi and Bolsonaro, no problem.

Image result for Netanyahu, Tlaib, Omar
Is Netanyahu really afraid of Tlaib and Omar?  (Photo: Times of Israel)

Barak: ‘Israel is facing no external existential threat’

Netanyahu’s intelligent, well-read, and undoubtedly understands that as former Prime Minister Barak and Democrat Camp candidate said this week at a forum on national security organized by the Council for Peace and Security, “Israel is facing no external existential threat.” After-all, Israel has the 4th or 5th strongest army in the world, backed by an estimated 80 to 200 nuclear weapons (according to foreign sources), it has a peace treaty with Egypt, it’s major adversary in three wars, and Jordan, the Syrian and Iraqi armies have fallen apart, so what’s left, Iran?  As former IDF Chief Staff Gadi Eisenkott said, to his knowledge, “for the past 1,400 years, the Iranians have never attacked another country.” The Iranians have been attacked many times, most recently by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq between 1980-1988, and what they are primarily interested in is defending their regime.

The Arab and Islamic World is Ready to Accept Israel

And let’s not forget the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, launched at the Arab League Summit conference in Beirut, and since reconfirmed many times, in which all 22 Arab states offer Israel peace and normal relations, embassies and all, in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital, with slight mutual border rectifications which will enable 80% of the settlers to remain where they are, and a mutually agreed upon solution for the refugee problem. That means that the Israeli government has to agree to the number that will be allowed to return, which will undoubtedly be a small percentage. The entire 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic States, meeting in Tehran (!), expressed its support for the Arab Peace Initiative. And the Iranian leaders have said repeatedly that they will accept whatever agreement is acceptable to the Palestinians, and the official PLO position is support for a two-state solution.

It’s not as if Israel didn’t have enemies. The fact is that the Arab world did not accept the UN Partition Plan in 1947 to establish a Jewish and an Arab state in Mandatory Palestine, and attacked the fledgling state. Egypt and Syria also attacked Israel in the Yom Kippur War in 1973, though that war could have been avoided if Prime Minister Golda Meir had responded to Egyptian overtures before the war. And Saddam Hussein fired 42 Scud missiles against Israel when he was attacked by coalition forces led by the U.S. in 1991. And there are still those today who would wish that Israel would disappear. But today there are no enemies threatening the existence of the state, and the Arab World is ready to accept it as an integral part of the Middle East.

BDS has had no impact  

BDS?  Maybe it makes activists feel good that they are doing something against the occupation, and perhaps some even think it will help eliminate the state of Israel, but ask any Israeli economist. They will say that it has had virtually no impact on the Israeli economy or society, and it won’t in the future. As a former EU Ambassador to Israel explained when asked why the EU and its member countries don’t do more to pressure Israel to end the occupation, his response was “it won’t happen.” Why? Because Israel has too much to offer, including military intelligence and know-how, knowledge of how to deal with Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, hi-tech expertise, etc.

So Tlaib and Omar have expressed support for BDS. They have also recognized Israel’s right to exist, but without the occupation. There’s nothing to be afraid of here. Many Israelis share that view.

Bibi the Backtracker

Unfortunately, backtracking is not a new Netanyahu trait. He did the same thing when an agreement was reached with the UN and 3rd party countries about a solution to the problem of 34,000 Sudanese and Eritrean migrant workers and asylum seekers in April 2018. Less than a day after announcing that an agreement had been reached, he , under pressure from right wing activists. This time he may have canceled the permit for Tlaib and Omar to come under pressure from President Trump, who wants to stain the Democratic Party. Even AIPAC and Republican Senator Marco Rubio criticized this undemocratic act!

US President Donald Trump (R) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu talk while walking to the West Wing of the White House for a meeting March 25, 2019. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

When Netanyahu was reelected in 2009, after his first term from 1996-1999 was acknowledged to be a failure, I really thought there was a chance that as an historian’s son,  with a second chance he might do the right thing, and understand that if he wanted to go down in history, it should be as the one who brought lasting peace and security to the State of Israel.  Unfortunately, I was wrong.

Representatives Tlaib and Omar, you are welcome to Israel 

Representatives Tlaib and Omar should know that there are many Israelis who are embarrassed and ashamed by Netanyahu’s behavior.  They had been invited by the Policy Working Group, a group of about 25 Israeli former diplomats, academics, civil society activists and media people, chaired by former Israeli Ambassador to South Africa Ilan Baruch, who resigned when he could no longer defend official Israeli government policy, to meet and discuss Israeli-Palestinian relations and how to advance a two-state solution, for the sake of both peoples.  Many other Israelis, including Members of Knesset would be happy to meet with them.

On Friday morning, Prof. Tzvia Walden, Shimon Peres’ daughter, opened a morning Sabbath discussion at the Tzavta Club in Tel Aviv with some comments about leadership in connection with the Torah Portion of the week which deals with Moses on Mt. Nebo, seeing the Promised Land, but realizing that his mission was over.

With a twinkle in her eye, she said “I realize that this is an election season, and I don’t mean to infer anything political, but leaders should know when it’s time to call it quits.”

About the Author
Hillel Schenker is Co-Editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and lives in Tel Aviv
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