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The optics don’t matter on Israel’s ban of Omar and Tlaib

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

By Jerome M. Marcus

(JNS) Just as its enemies hoped, Israel has been attacked for denying entry to two U.S. congresswomen who, in clear violation of Israeli law, sought to enter the country so they could use it as a backdrop to advocate for the BDS movement. So rabid are these haters that, in the itinerary they submitted to the State of Israel, they said they wanted to come to visit “Palestine,” wherever that is. The State of Israel has no power to authorize people to enter the imaginary country of Palestine, regardless of where its imaginary borders might be.

Indeed, Israel first agreed to allow Omar and Tlaib entry. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu explained in his statement announcing the revocation of this permission, Israel changed its mind only when their planned itinerary made clear “that their intent is to hurt Israel” and promote “unrest against it.”

No country has any obligation to let admit people who come only to attack. Yet Israel has been denounced for this decision.

The answer is that the attacks come from different flanks. The actual Israel-haters are delighted to attack Israel for not letting the women in, just as they would have been delighted to attack Israel for letting them in and then bemoaning the oppression of the Palestinians that the women came to promote.

Another front, though, has been Israel’s “reasonable” friends, who worry that by barring its door to these enemies Israel allowed itself to be made to look bad. Let’s hold that accusation up to the light.

Several years ago, a “flotilla” set sail to Gaza from Turkey, including several boats filled with celebrity Israel-haters and one filled with actual terrorists. They claimed they were coming to deliver humanitarian supplies to the oppressed Arabs in Gaza, which is under a blockade that even the United Nations says is legal because the Hamas government in Gaza has declared war on Israel (and, just for good measure, on all Jews throughout the world). In fact, though, as was obvious to anyone who was paying attention, these people wanted to do nothing other than stage a publicity stunt, manufacture victims of Israeli self-defense, declare victory and go home.

Israel stopped most of the boats without incident, but the one with the trained terrorists on it put up a fight. Israel landed some of its most highly trained special ops soldiers on the deck of this ship, armed with sidearms and paint guns—yes, you heard that right, paint guns. So enormously brave and skilled were these Jewish heroes that they ultimately subdued the terrorists on deck, who came at them with metal rods, tried to kidnap one and bloodied several before they were defeated.

The world’s response? The same foolish nonsense we hear now about Omar and Tlaib. Israel’s avowed enemies claimed to be shocked at Israel’s bad behavior, saying they used violence to stop a humanitarian campaign! And all its tepid friends could do in response was to wring their hands and moan that the incident made Israel look bad.

This response came then, as it often does now, from people who clearly care about Israel, accurately evaluate Israel’s enemies most of the time and who should know better than to be cowed by publicity stunts. The only point of the exercise—of the Mavi Marmara “humanitarian” flotilla, like the “learning exercise” of Tlaib and Omar, was to make Israel look bad. For a reporter or analyst to say that Israel failed because it looked bad by barring its door to these enemies is an entirely self-fulfilling prophecy. In fact, it isn’t even a prophecy; it’s just a self-referential announcement about the views of the announcer. Israel, these people are saying, looks bad because I have announced in print that Israel looks bad.

This is nonsense. What Israel did was simply to deny entry to enemies—something that every reasonable country does every day. The United States denies visas all the time to people it deems a threat. In fact, according to a General Accounting Office report from 2018, in the United States, under President Barack Obama, the non-immigrant visa refusal rate rose from about “14 percent in fiscal year 2012 to about 22 percent in fiscal year 2016, and remained about the same in fiscal year 2017; averaging about 18 percent over the time period,” according to the report. “The total number of NIVs issued peaked in fiscal year 2015 at about 10.89 million, before falling in fiscal years 2016 and 2017 to 10.38 million and 9.68 million, respectively.”

Looking bad is in the eye of the beholder. Lookers who are analysts (and even those who are just thoughtful) should feel no obligation to bemoan Israel’s “looking bad” for anything unless it really is bad. If it’s not, then the objective analyst should always say exactly that.

On Friday morning, it was announced that Israel had granted Tlaib’s request to enter the country so that she could visit her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in the disputed territories. “It may be my last chance to see her,” Tlaib tearily told the media before Israel acquiesced. Israel insisted only that Tlaib agree that while she was on this humanitarian visit, she not promote a boycott of the Jewish state. Tlaib’s response? After saying “yes,” she ultimately said “no.” She thus proclaims her real truth: Visiting her aged grandmother was less important than promoting hatred of the Jewish state.

If anyone had any doubt about the intended purpose of this “visit” by Omar and Tlaib, this capitulation by Tlaib removes it. They weren’t coming to learn and see, and they weren’t coming to promote peace. They weren’t even coming to visit family. Instead, as Tlaib makes absolutely clear, they were coming only for one reason: to hurt Israel. If they couldn’t do that, they weren’t coming at all, even to visit aged family members whom they will probably never see again.

Israel absolutely should not fall victim to such stunts. And neither should its friends.

Jerome M. Marcus is a lawyer and a fellow at the Kohelet Policy Forum in Jerusalem.

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Israel’s decision to bar Omar and Tlaib comes from a position of strength

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

By Alex Traiman

(JNS) Israel set off a firestorm this week in announcing that U.S. Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) would not receive entry visas for their self-stated visit to “Palestine.”

Just two weeks earlier, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer—a trusted adviser with a direct line to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—had stated that “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 it was just days ago that 72 representatives from both parties toured Israel on delegations specifically designed for freshman members of Congress. Yet Tlaib and Omar refused to attend, joining calls to #skipthetrip, which was organized on behalf of the representatives by the American Israeli Education Foundation (AIEF), a division of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Instead, Tlaib and Omar scheduled a different trip sponsored by Miftah, an organization that promotes boycotts and delegitimization of Israel. The itinerary did not include any coordination with Israel’s foreign ministry or formal requests to meet any Israeli officials.

When Israeli government officials learned of the itinerary, they announced that the two anti-Israel representatives would not receive entry visas for a trip, in accordance with a 2017 law that permits the country to ban promoters of boycotts from entering the country, which was clearly scheduled specifically for the purpose of strengthening their anti-Israel narrative.

Opponents of the decision, including other members of Congress and members of the American Jewish communal establishment, came out in full force to deride the Israeli government’s enforcement of its law.

Many said the decision was a sign of weakness on the part of Israel’s democracy, while others said the decision would hurt Israel’s image abroad.

Additionally, opponents of the decision have said that it would do irreparable harm to the U.S.-Israel relationship.  In a statement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations noted that in a phone call on the reversal with Dermer, “Concerns were expressed by numerous leaders about the implications of the decision and how it is perceived, while acknowledging the extreme anti-Israel rhetoric and actions of the congresswomen.”

Yet U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman countered those claims, implying that the enforcement of its law would not harm relations, stating that “the United States supports and respects the decision of the Government of Israel to deny entry to the Tlaib/Omar Delegation.” He went on to state that “the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is not free speech. Rather, it is no less than economic warfare designed to delegitimize and ultimately destroy the Jewish state.”

Just hours before Israel made the announcement to bar the two congresswomen, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.”

In making the decision, Israel sent a strong message to Omar and Tlaib, and other BDS supporters: If you promote boycotts of Israel, then Israel boycotts you. If you delegitimize Israel as a sovereign entity and make anti-Semitic claims, then Israel does not give legitimacy to your positions, even (and especially) as members of the government of a close ally like the United States.

Whether one agrees with Israel’s decision or not, it was made from a position of strength, not weakness. Israel’s democracy has proven time and again that it can withstand any criticism, whether from grassroots activists to nation-state leaders.

The special relationship between Israel and the United States is based on shared values and mutual respect. For those members of Congress who continue to express those shared values and show respect towards the Jewish nation as a power and a positive force, they will always be invited and welcomed with open arms.

Unfortunately, progressive members of the Democratic Party are introducing a new set of political values and seemingly working to deride the Israeli government. This stark distancing from Israel, which has embedded itself within the party long before Omar and Tlaib were elected, threatens the U.S. relationship with Israel much more than the government’s reaction to a provocative itinerary meant to further delegitimize the Jewish state.

And whether the decision was the correct move—either from the point of Israel’s complicated public relations or from the purview of maintaining Israel’s long-term bond with the Democratic Party—it is well within its sovereign right as a strong and free nation to decide either to let the two enter or to #skiptheirtrip.

Alex Traiman is managing director and Jerusalem Bureau Chief of Jewish News Syndicate.



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Israel should have ignored Trump’s pressure on Omar and Tlaib

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

By Jonathan S. Tobin

(JNS) Unlike his predecessor, Barack Obama, President Donald Trump doesn’t think more “daylight” between the United States and Israel is needed, and he has had Israel’s back on all the major issues regarding the peace process and threats like Iran.

But ironically, this is a moment when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should have not only sought to establish a little distance between his government and the White House, but also ignored the advice coming from the Twitter account of @realDonaldTrump.

Trump’s Thursday-morning tweet, in which he said “it would show great weakness” if Israel allowed Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) to enter the country, apparently helped push Netanyahu to decide to prevent the pair from carrying out their planned trip, which was originally slated to start on Sunday.

While this may play well with some Israelis and also serves Trump’s political interests, it is a terrible mistake that will only hurt Israel and help its enemies.

Trump is right when he says that Omar and Tlaib hate Israel. They’re both guilty of anti-Semitic attacks on the Jewish nation and its American supporters, in which they’ve claimed that Jews are buying congressional support and are guilty of dual loyalty to both countries. They’re supporters of a BDS movement that is drenched in anti-Semitism and seeks to eliminate the one Jewish state on the planet.

Their goal is to conduct a circus-like tour of Palestinian sites in which a gaggle of international journalists will help them smear Israel as an oppressor. The problems of the Palestinians would have been depicted as solely the fault of Israel, while the oppression, violence, corruption and intransigence of both the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip would have been ignored.

But keeping them out of the country will help the congresswomen’s cause and other Israel-haters far more than Israel.

By going back on his government’s initial promise to allow the two to visit Israel, made last month by Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer, Netanyahu is hurting his country’s image as a free and open democracy that is not afraid of scrutiny. While that is an important consideration, the real damage goes far deeper than mere bad optics.

Their denied entry will give opponents of laws that ban compliance with BDS boycotts the ability to say that Israel and its friends are seeking to bar free speech.

More importantly, by allowing Omar and Tlaib to pose as martyrs, Israel will engender sympathy for them among their fellow Democrats, aiding rather than hindering their effort to ensure that the party is further alienated from Israel.

At the bottom of this controversy is a foolish law passed by the Knesset in 2017 to ban entry into the country of foreigners who support boycotts of Israel. The point of the legislation was to hinder non-government organizations that seek to promote the false image of Israel as an “apartheid” state. But while this inconvenienced these activists, its main impact was to provide fodder for their propaganda efforts. Their activities inside Israel did little or no actual harm to the state. Yet their exclusion made the region’s only democracy seem like just another petty tyranny. The law allowed Israelis to vent their anger at opponents, but helped their foes more than it hurt them.

Law or no law, under normal circumstances, no Israeli government would think of enforcing a ban on a member of Congress, no matter how much they may be disliked or unwelcome. The reason why the unthinkable became Israeli policy is rooted in the politics of both countries.

Netanyahu may think this decision will help him rally more right-wing Israeli voters to the Likud prior to next month’s elections, where he is fighting for his political life.

The more important calculation is that it is in Trump’s interests for Netanyahu to ban Omar and Tlaib.

Much as was the case with his previous shots at the pair and the other members of the “Squad,” like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Trump wants these radicals to become the face of the Democratic Party. His attacks on them helped turned them into martyrs and the darlings of both the party’s left-wing activist base, the liberal media and late-night television comedy shows.

Though their views are out of sync with more moderate Democrats, like the 41 members of the House who just visited Israel this past week to express their solidarity, Trump’s broadsides make it harder for others in their party to censure or hold them accountable for their anti-Semitism.

Moderate Democrats are trying, albeit not always successfully, to hold the line against radicals whose animus for Israel is fueled by intersectional theories that are fashionable on the far-left and with minority communities. But Trump wants them to fail and to further the alarming chasm between many Democrats and supporters of Israel that was widened by the misguided policies of Obama. The further to the left the Democrats drift, the easier Trump thinks it will be for him to be re-elected.

Trump may be the most pro-Israel U.S. president to date, and many friends of Israel view with alarm the possibility that a Democrat with far less sympathy for the Jewish state will replace him in the Oval Office in 2021. But given the fact that good relations with the United States is a long-term priority that transcends the political calculations of both Trump and Netanyahu, it’s not in Israel’s interests to do anything that will make the break with Democrats worse.

That is exactly what Netanyahu has done by banning Omar and Tlaib.

And by announcing his decision only an hour after Trump’s tweet, Netanyahu is allowing detractors to portray him as a lap dog of an American president, which is something that will make it harder for him or a successor to say “no” to the White House the next time it becomes necessary.

Even those who rightly regard Omar and Tlaib with anger and contempt should understand that this decision is a self-inflicted wound that will do Israel far more damage in terms of its interests and its image than any short-lived visit would have done.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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Banning Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will turn young American Jews against Israel

Banning Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib will turn young American Jews against Israel

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib had no plans to visit Israel while in the area. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

By Samuel Heilman

JERUSALEM (JTA) — During the past few days in Israel, a debate has broken out about the proposed visit of U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib to the Palestinian territories. Both Democrats, Muslims and vocal critics of Israel, the congresswomen apparently were planning a not uncommon fact-finding trip to the region while Congress is on recess — before Israel made the decision to ban them. 
Omar and Tlaib had been planning to visit Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-annexed eastern Jerusalem, including a visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque. Tlaib had been planning to stay on to visit relatives in her parents’ former home. In the last few hours, the flip-flopping Netanyahu government has said it will allow Talib to visit her relatives in the West Bank on humanitarian grounds as she pledged to abide by any restrictions and not to promote boycotts against Israel, but the Michigan lawmaker decided that she will not be going “under these oppressive conditions.”
https://twitter.com/RashidaTlaib/status/1162346455593619457
What made this proposed visit significant was that the congresswomen had no plans to visit Israel during their time in the area, and that they hold clearly expressed concerns about the occupation and the conditions of Palestinians living under Israeli control. 
Originally it seemed that Israel would follow precedent and allow the elected officials of its most important ally to visit. But seemingly under pressure from President Trump, the Netanyahu government decided to stop their planned visit.
But there are many in Israel, where I am now, who believe strongly that prohibiting these members of Congress from coming would be a bad mistake. As the former Israeli consul general in New York Alon Pinkas put it, “These are congresswomen of the majority party, which most American Jews vote for.” Many of the Israelis who agree with Pinkas and think this ban is a bad idea are not likely to vote for Netanyahu or his political allies in the Israeli elections due in a few weeks. And those in America who agree are probably not likely to vote for Trump.
The fact that the Netanyahu government has acceded to the president’s “advice” is a reflection of the fact that it long ago put itself firmly in sympathy with the Republican Party and Trump administration, both of whom have singled out these two Democrats as public enemies of Israel, with Trump, in a widely criticized statement, having infamously suggested the American-born Tlaib and the U.S. citizen Omar “go back to where they came from.”
Trump has also singled out these two women in his campaign against the Democrats in the race for the White House and control of Congress in the 2020 elections. It is obvious that he is trying to use Israel to punish his political enemies, and Netanyahu is no less interested in showing that his political enemies are aligned with the enemies of the state.
Of course, siding with Trump, as well as making any efforts to limit the members of Congress from meeting with Palestinians, or from visiting the mosque on the Temple Mount, plays right into the hands of those who want to point out how the Israeli occupation has been baneful and unfair. 
After all, when Eid-el-Adha fell this year on the same day as Tisha b’Av, Israeli authorities permitted approximately 1,700 Jewish visitors onto the mountain on which sits the Al-Aqsa mosque. How does it look if Israel allowed Jews on the mountain for their holy day but now limits visits from Muslim members of Congress?
To restrict these two Democrats will only serve to alienate many young American Democratic voters, as well as the progressive wing of the American electorate — and in the long run harden their opposition to Israel. It will feed the argument that Israel treats Palestinians poorly and unfairly, and that it is no better than the Arabs who for years limited access to Jews who wanted to visit their holy sites when they were under Muslim rule. And it will allow the world to paint Israel as far from being the open society it claims to be. 
Indeed, Omar lost no time in pointing out that “The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation.” 
In fact, the Israeli government would have been far better off, as many Israelis have been saying, had it done all it could to enable these two prominent Muslim congresswomen to see what and who they want. More than that, the government could have extended an invitation to them to meet with whomever they want among Israelis as well.  
It might have offered them a “deluxe” visit, taken them to Mount Herzl and its military cemetery, Yad Vashem and Neve Shalom, the joint Arab and Israeli village. There is much they would have benefited from seeing that would give the world another side of the story. But instead, Israel has given the lawmakers and their voters the ammunition that shows the world the most negative side of the country and confirms all the accusations leveled against it. Now even moderate Democrats who generally support Israel will have to take a stance against the Israeli ban, which is so wrapped up in the political agenda of Trump Republicans. A major supporter of Israel, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, called the Israeli decision “outrageous.”
It is also worth remembering that there is nothing sinister about Muslims wanting to be at their holy places, about a Palestinian American whose parents were born in Palestine wanting to visit that place from which her family immigrated and where her grandmother still lives. Returning as a newly seated U.S. congresswoman (and not just an American relative) to the village that is understandably so proud of her is part of the long-held American tradition of elected officials going back to the places of their ethnic origins. As an ally of the United States, Israel understands this well.
Who knows if the visit of the two, if allowed to go on with minimal control from Israel, could not have served as an opening for peace? It is worthwhile to remember that one makes peace not with one’s friends but with one’s adversaries. That is how swords are turned into plowshares.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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Israel was right to ban Reps. Tlaib and Omar, but Trump was wrong to pressure us to do so

Israel was right to ban Reps. Tlaib and Omar, but Trump was wrong to pressure us to do so

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 25: (AFP OUT) US President Donald J. Trump (R) and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu (L) shake hands in the Oval Office of the White House March 25, 2019 in Washington, DC. Trump signed an order recognizing Golan Heights as Israeli territory.Netanyahu is cutting short his visit to Washington due to a rocket attack in central Israel that had injured seven people. (Photo by Michael Reynolds – Pool/Getty Images)

By Laura Ben-David

TEKO’A, WEST BANK (JTA) — When Israel announced that it would be banning lawmakers Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar from visiting Israel, it caused a huge debate to erupt in the Jewish community for all sorts of reasons. 
Supporters of the ban argue that if someone denies your right to exist — as Tlaib and Omar do through their support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel — then why would you let them into your house? Those who oppose the ban say that it is undemocratic or simply wrong to ban elected officials of our number one ally. 
So what is the right course of action for Israel to take? Social media has been teeming with concerns and possibilities, with Israelis and American Jews sharing their opinions as if they were going to be taken into account. 
Some of the details of the planned trip are disturbing at best: The fact that lawmakers were planning a trip to “Palestine” and didn’t even mention visiting “Israel”; the fact that Tlaib and Omar are BDS supporters and, in essence, deny Israel’s right to exist; the reality that they were going to be avoiding all of the usual meetings, visits and simple diplomatic pleasantries that an elected official would typically take part in.
Those who suggested Tlaib and Omar should come, but under some sort of controlled circumstances that included showing them what Israel is really about, quickly realized that this wasn’t going to happen once they read through the list of destinations.
Their planned visit to the Temple Mount could have sparked violence, bringing back alarming memories of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon‘s ill-advised visit to the Temple Mount in 2000 and the “spontaneous” eruption of rioting that tipped off the Second Intifada. 
What good can come from allowing them in? We know there is no debating Tlaib and Omar. Their views have been set in stone for a long time, and we’re unlikely to change them. But what about their supporters? Even more so, would the trip show a new side of the conflict to those watching on the sidelines who are not quite sure what to think?
Until recently, I felt strongly that Israel should permit Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to enter the country and see Israel for what it is. I wish we actually had a chance of giving them a balanced experience. 
But they clearly have an agenda, and frankly, the whole trip is just a public relations stunt. In fact, it is a PR stunt whether or not they get into Israel — being barred from their trip just makes them appear like righteous victims to their fans.
If we can’t win no matter what we do, why give them this opportunity which we know they will be using to harm us? 
I’ll admit that it was personally very satisfying to see the news that they were banned.  After all, Israel has a law that allows it to bar BDS activists from entering.
But this isn’t about me. Was it the best thing for Israel? In truth, there was something I’d missed: Politics at the highest level. 
President Trump had very strong opinions about the two Representatives’ proposed visit, and made them known on Twitter, of course: 
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1162000480681287683
“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep.Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!” he wrote on Thursday.
https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1162040855328436225
“Representatives Omar and Tlaib are the face of the Democrat Party, and they HATE Israel!” he wrote a few hours later.
For me, this changed everything. 
Under normal conditions, if the leader of an allied nation told an ally to ban certain members of his own government for being known subversives, that would be something valid to consider.
Indeed, there are extremists on the far right and the far left in Israel’s political arena who most Israelis would be happy to tell the U.S. to ban — and a few are indeed barred from entering the country. 
But unfortunately, there’s nothing normal about the state of America’s relationship with its Tweeter-in-Chief. 
Trump did two things which changed my personal view completely: He supposedly pressured Netanyahu to bar Tlaib and Omar, though Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Ron Dermer, denies this. 
And Trump made the whole visit a partisan issue. Whatever legitimate weight we may have had on the side of barring them has been crushed under the terrible damage and toxic effects of Trump’s verbal onslaught.
Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee came out against the move:
https://twitter.com/AIPAC/status/1162039422847803394
“We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand,” AIPAC said in a statement.
Yes, Reps. Omar and Tlaib should be able to visit and experience Israel firsthand. But would they have? There was no pretense. They were going to visit “Palestine.”
There was certainly no winning here. We truly were stuck between a rock and a hard place. But rather than allow ourselves to be turned into a political football, perhaps we would have stood to lose less by just gritting our teeth and letting them in. 
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar should be allowed to visit the Palestinian territories, but only if they visit Israel first

Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar should be allowed to visit the Palestinian territories, but only if they visit Israel first

Posted on 16 August 2019 by Sharon Wisch-Ray

Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., were recently banned from entering the state of Israel. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

By Thane Rosenbaaum

NEW YORK (JTA) — If ever there were two people who had no business setting foot on Israeli soil, they are Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Today, Israel announced that these two Muslim-American elected officials, avowed supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, would be banned from entering. 
Under Israeli law, the country may deny entry to any visitor who makes a “public call for boycotting Israel” or “any area under its control.” 
Tlaib and Omar likely planned to use Israel as a prop in their ongoing escapades in anti-Jewish, anti-Zionist propaganda, and of course the ban should apply to them: They traffic in anti-Semitic tropes, distort crucial facts of Middle East history, desecrate Holocaust memory and, most hypocritically, by demonizing and delegitimizing the one free country in the Middle East, they show themselves to be utterly lacking in personal integrity and moral responsibility.  
Given that they are the first Muslim women to be elected to Congress, perhaps instead of landing in Israel and misapplying words like “human rights,” “colonialists,” “racists,” “apartheid” and the “confiscation of Arab lands,” they should be visiting with the assorted and sordid dictators, monarchs and theocrats who lead neighboring Arab and Muslim countries, repressive societies that adhere strictly to Sharia Law and allow for the lashing, dismembering and beheading of women, the torching of homosexuals, the murdering of apostates and the jailing of jurists and journalists. 
Instead, Tlaib and Omar wish to direct the cameras of CNN, BBC and MSNBC so they can be filmed browbeating Israel — the only democratic, liberal society anywhere in the region encompassing the Middle East, the Persian Gulf and Northern Africa, about its comparative human rights record. 
It’s all so intellectually dishonest and morally vulgar. 
And yet, that’s precisely why Israel should let Omar and Tlaib in — despite the anti-BDS law.
Let them come. Israel, after all, is an open society, and it has nothing to fear from two politicians out for a hateful joy ride. They can even bring the cameras. Treat these two legislators like legitimate heads of state, even though they represent the fringe of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.
Except on one condition. Before they parade around Ramallah, they should first be required to make a pluralistic pilgrimage, a series of necessary pit stops that should be obligatory for all bad-mouthing, ill-intentioned, defamatory and cynical visitors to Israel.
Go ahead, trash the Jewish state on its own soil. But first you must meet with Arab members of Knesset, who are elected Muslim legislators just like them — except that these Arab citizens of Israel make speeches on the floor of the Knesset that would be deemed treasonous if spoken on Capitol Hill. Next, visit the opinion writers of Haaretz, who lambast Israel in ways that would make both Tlaib and Omar, and anyone on any American newspaper, blush.  
Go see the Druze who proudly serve in the IDF, and Arab-Israelis who have served on Israel’s Supreme Court, and Yityish Titi Aynaw, the Ethiopian Miss Israel, and the Palestinians who once worked for SodaStream in the West Bank, where Arabs sat together with Jews in the lunchroom and had higher salaries and better healthcare than most Palestinians. 
At night, they need to attend a concert in Tel Aviv, like the one that Jennifer Lopez gave recently, and see women who dress however they wish, alongside gay men dressed more garishly than J-Lo, the same men who march in Pride parades and never for a moment think that they might someday hang from a crane. 
Jews and Arabs sitting beside each other riding public transportation. Pink washing? I don’t think so.  
On what planet does any of this constitute apartheid?
Only then, when they are fatigued from all that Israeli freedom, exposed to the only place in the Middle East where it is safe to be a Christian, and where Arab citizens enjoy rights like no other in that part of the world, after being fed with shakshuka and dizzy from far too many grapevine dances, can Tlaib and Omar proclaim the many ways that Israel falls short from being a perfect democracy.
They should be treated like any other member of Congress who visits Israel. That means they must see Israel — all of it.  Not just the West Bank.  And when they do, they will return to the United States with a clearer understanding as to why democratic Israel must remain a staunch ally and a valued friend.
Welcome to Israel, ladies of the American Congress. Have a safe journey home. Thank you for letting the world see what you saw on your visit to Israel.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JTA or its parent company, 70 Faces Media.

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Building a community Israel education initiative

Posted on 14 August 2019 by admin

By Peta Silansky

In 2013, I was asked to join a conversation about developing a community Israel education program. Intrigued, I went to the meeting. I never could have imagined the journey that this meeting started, both personally and professionally. The unforeseen importance of this invitation changed the trajectory of my life, empowered me to discover my own Israel story, and gave me the unique opportunity to guide others on theirs.
Opportunities come in unexpected ways.
Typically, as an educator, I set goals, develop objectives, and strive to evaluate the results. And I find myself wondering, how do I measure or give value to moments of unforeseen importance?
My task was to create a program that would support Dallas religious-school educators in providing more effective and passionate Israel learning in their classrooms. The program was to provide a platform for educators to build and deepen their relationships with the land and people of Israel, and was to include an experience in Israel. Along with articulating these objectives, the program funders gave me a single recommendation: connect with The iCenter! With that, The Schultz Israel Fellows program was born.
Initially, my conversations with The iCenter were filled with questions as we explored the why, who, and how of this potential initiative. I developed a framework, revisited the purpose of the program, developing something of significance and value, and was guided by The iCenter to approach this work in ways that could engage and inspire our educators creatively. This initial cohort has given way to three additional groups for a total of 45 Schultz Fellows who have impacted more than 200 community educators and leaders, and 2000 students from within eight supplementary schools, eight synagogues, five early childhood programs, five community organizations, and three Jewish day schools in the Dallas area.
My relationship with The iCenter has gone beyond building a framework of Israel education and working together to expand The Schultz Fellows program. The iCenter continuously challenges the way I make meaning of Israel education; they guide me to reimagine and generate new ideas about the way I approach my work. Together, we have created and implemented meaningful Israel experiences for educators and, subsequently, their communities. I reflect and learn from them, and then build on the experiences to develop new ones.
Working with the Schultz Fellows has enabled me to see Israel through new lenses, and experience firsthand the impact of a shared Israel experience. For this, all credit goes to the treasure of the Dallas Jewish community, the Schultz family: Lesley (z”l), Howard and Jaynie. This visionary family invests in impactful ideas with commitment and hope, embracing the paradox articulated by Parker Palmer at iCON (The iCenter’s biennial conference): “a balance of chutzpah and humility.” The chutzpah to say what it is they care about and support, and the humility to listen and learn from others.
Israel education is part of the landscape of Jewish education in Dallas, and I am fortunate to drive part of this initiative. The inclusion of Israel education across the curriculum is central to Jewish education and community programming. Witnessing the impact that a personal Israel experience has on community-building furthers my desire to continue work in this field.
I now bring the confidence, knowledge, tools, and resources to move forward to dream, create and implement more Israel education in Dallas.
I am filled with gratitude for the support both locally and from The iCenter that makes this work possible. This part-time temporary initiative that started from a conversation has resulted in a strategic, deeply impactful program that creates excellent Israel learning and experiences for students in all kinds of settings. I have the added benefit of forming relationships with educators across our community who hone their skills as educators. The Schultz Fellowship is a model of success, demonstrating the power of a community thinking big and taking bold steps.
Peta Silansky coordinates Community Outreach and Engagement and the Schultz Fellows program for the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas and is a participant in The iCenter’s Graduate Certificate in Israel Education — a partnership with The George Washington University.

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Prejudging others is an easy trap to fall into

Posted on 13 June 2018 by admin

Are you a judgmental person? Do people have the experience of walking away from conversations with you like they have been put in a little box? “What an insulting question! I certainly am not that type of person!” Actually, this week I realized I am a bit like that. Let me explain.
I was in New York for a day this week. I figured I would change up my usual routine and decided not to rent a car. It seemed that my schedule would be very tight and it might be easier to not spend time at the car rental counter and taking a shuttle back and forth to the terminal! This way I could just spend time waiting at security instead of also waiting for buses. I opted to take Lyft to the airport in Dallas, to my mom’s house, to my meeting in New York, and back. You get the idea.
While sitting in horrendous yet typical New York traffic on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (anything but express as far as I am concerned!) I noticed I was surrounded by something unusual — silence. I am not one to be short on words or questions for friends or strangers alike, yet here I was sitting in a painful New York standstill without a sound being uttered! (The fact that the driver seemed to be playing a game of speeding up and then slamming on the brake as he came within inches of the car in front of us did nothing to make me want to say anything more than monosyllables!) Why had my normally talkative side suddenly vanished? It seemed that every time I got into a Lyft in New York I would not say a word but when I got into a Lyft in Dallas the conversation just flowed! What was that all about?
Upon reflection I understood what was going on. You see, “‘They’ say that New Yorkers are unfriendly and cold.” Unwittingly I had bought into this and began relating to all New Yorkers this way. As a result I subconsciously shut down when in a car with a driver in New York. What I was doing was not only stereotyping but was actually going against Torah. The Mishnah says in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of the Fathers) “And you shall give every person favorable judgment.” Just because a person may be from a certain geographic area is no reason to assume he falls into a certain box.
When we stop viewing individuals as distinct and start seeing them as part of a group that follows a certain pattern, we lose respect and appreciation for their unique personality and qualities. I always say that people are fascinating. Yet, I was guilty of fitting millions of people into a neat box!
I am committed to starting to view all (or at least a bunch of) New Yorkers as being distinct and unique! So — as long as my Lyft driver is not driving in a way that will cause me to toss my cookies — I will engage him or her in conversation and learn to see how special and surprisingly refreshingly interesting they are.
Rabbi Nesanya Zakon is the codirector of DATA of Plano.

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Far-left Jews sow anti-Israel seeds

Posted on 04 June 2018 by admin

By Lisa Landau Rudner

If one were to see a proclaimed vegetarian eat meat or hear an avowed civil rights activist spew racial epithets, one might rightly assume those individuals are not true to what they claim to be.
Something nefarious has occurred on the far left of the political spectrum. The term “pro-Israel” has been co-opted and corrupted to mean anything a person or organization declares it to signify. Even the sentiments of “anti-Israel” rhetoric are somehow whitewashed if they are uttered by a self-styled “pro-Israel advocate,” particularly a Jewish one.
True politically progressive and staunchly pro-Israel voices have felt nearly extinguished because they have no echo chamber in the media, no platform sexy enough to attract broadcasters or publishers or social media. Liberal outlets love nothing more than Jews who vilify Israel and then gleefully pair them with fellow Israel-bashers such as Linda Sarsour. And conservative media have no interest in showcasing authentic pro-Israel liberals, leaving genuine pro-Israel Democrats without a microphone or even a tent under which to stand.
Self-appointed “pro-Israel” Jewish leaders on the far left often tragically sow hazardous seeds of anti-Israel dogma in the Diaspora. J Street is part of a chorus of handwringers who bellow loudly about the endless sins of the Israelis to their willing uninformed and unwitting masses, including to young impressionable students.
In a bizarre ironic twist, it is those in the political center and on the right who demonstrate far more respect for Palestinians than do those on the far left. When the Palestinians, through their democratically elected Hamas and Palestinian Authority officials, tell the world their beliefs and their intentions, political moderates and conservatives trust their statements.
The far left sees the Palestinians and their chosen governments as they want them to be, as they wish them to be. That is the height of disrespect and arrogance, and by Jews who live 7,000 miles west of Israel. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have communicated in every way possible their intentions to destroy Israel and to murder Jews. Why don’t these very Jews believe the Palestinians, their elected representatives, their charters, their words, their terrorist actions, their horrifying anti-Semitism, their murdering of innocents in Israel, their arson and their 200,000 missiles aimed at Israel?
Is it some derivative of the Stockholm Syndrome that makes some Jews more comfortable lying with those who espouse Israel’s destruction than with the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces who are sworn to safeguard the Jewish people, including their own parents and kids who live just steps away from Hamas militants?
And to be clear, Israeli soldiers, who would likely prefer to be living lives similar to their university-attending counterparts in the States, serve in an ethically trained, albeit imperfect army. IDF soldiers are not demigods fully able to fight a war against enemy combatants without casualty, or without offending the sensibilities of far-left Jews living nowhere near the Gaza border or even near Israel.
Even if well motivated, what does all of this self-flagellation from Jews living outside of Israel yield? Who does it help? Who does it hurt? Does it aid the Palestinians it purports to defend? Have the Palestinians rewritten their charters or changed their mission? Have they relinquished their claim on all of Israel? Are they now calling for peace with the Israelis? Does it help Israel in its fight against terror? Does it help Israel protect her citizens? Do the Palestinians and her allies around the globe use the words of Jews who propagate anti-Israel positions to elevate themselves? Do pro-Palestinian groups on university campuses engage J Street-sympathetic Jews for their own use? The answers to these questions are so painfully obvious they require no formal response.
Though it would be welcomed, not every Jew must wave the Israeli flag, but to wave the Palestinian flag in the name of some moral high-ground is a perversion of all that is righteous and good in Judaism and in Zionism. For those to whom strength, self-possession and pride in the Jewish State are something to be ashamed of or repulsed by, please stop sermonizing about Israel’s need to be accountable to its own values, values it seems the far left does not share.
Lisa Landau Rudner is a member of the Dallas Jewish community. She is the mother of three; her son Matan is a Lone Soldier in Israel.

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Secure Israel, but protect innocent in Gaza

Posted on 24 May 2018 by admin

As a lover of Israel and a person staunchly committed to the safety and security of the Jewish homeland and all her inhabitants, I identify with the fear Israelis living on Israel’s border with Gaza feel.
I have visited the preschools in Sderot and the residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz and seen the ways in which their lives are threatened by ongoing terrorism. I expect that the Israeli military will protect those individuals from threats that come from missiles, from underground tunnels and most recently, from rocks, burning tires and wire cutters.
First and foremost, the role of government is to protect its citizens. The question is, in this moment in history, who is responsible for protecting the people of Gaza?
The mothers and fathers, babies and elderly, children and young adults of Gaza have no government to protect them. Their elected government, Hamas, puts them directly in the line of fire. The Palestinian Authority, Israel and Egypt give them limited resources and can withdraw those resources at will. Over the past 18 years, each of these governments have repeatedly explained why they cannot be responsible for protecting people who are being controlled by the others. While this callous and manipulative game of passing the buck has gone on, Gaza’s 2 million inhabitants have experienced an exponential decline in their living conditions, to the point where the cage in which they live, delimited by its borders with Israel, Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea, is predicted to be uninhabitable within a matter of months. They cannot leave, and they have nowhere to turn for help.
Many pro-Israel groups portray the situation in Gaza as a hopeless knot, which, if it is to be untied, must somehow be loosened by the people of Gaza themselves. Other pro-Israel groups view this attitude as an abrogation of moral responsibility, one that ultimately puts Israel more at risk. Instead of spending time debating which of these groups is right, the pro-Israel community should be working to support the people of Gaza who are trying to find a way out of their nightmare while continuing to support rational and effective security for Israel.
Last year, I met a Palestinian man from Gaza named Yousef Bashir at a conference in Dallas. Yousef grew up near Kfar Darom, one of the Israeli settlements dismantled in the withdrawal from Gaza in 2006. In 2000, as part of an Israeli military defense strategy implemented at the beginning of the Second Intifada, IDF soldiers occupied his family home and converted it into a military post. Yousef was 11 years old at the time. His father chose to stay in their home when the IDF moved in, fearing that if the family left, they would never be allowed to return.
Israeli soldiers relegated the Bashir family to a small area of their own home. They had to ask permission to use their kitchen and their bathroom. When using the bathroom, Yousef and his mother, father, sisters and brothers all had to leave the door open. The IDF required that Israeli surveillance be maintained over their most personal and private matters, in a home where there had been no security threat. Despite daily humiliation and dehumanization, Yousef’s father insisted on living with dignity, treating the soldiers as guests in his home and setting an example of peaceful defiance, decency and coexistence for his children.
In 2004, when Yousef was 15 years old, he was shot in the back by an Israeli soldier in his front yard. The IDF took responsibility for the shooting, but never explained it. Yousef was taken to a hospital in Tel Aviv and was able to experience everything we know about the Israeli medical system — unsurpassed excellence in the treatment and care of his physical and emotional wounds. For the first time in his life, he felt that Israeli Jews were treating him as a human being, and he was able to see them as healers rather than oppressors.
As soon as Yousef was released from medical supervision, his father sent him to a camp run by Seeds of Peace, one of hundreds of organizations that bring young Palestinians and young Israelis together to “transform legacies of conflict into courage to lead change.” This experience deepened Yousef’s commitment to connecting with Jews and Israelis in authentic and meaningful ways in order to disrupt the destructive cycle of mutual suffering.
Yousef was able to leave Gaza in 2006 to come to the United States, where he has lived ever since. He completed high school in the U.S., received a bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University and went on to complete a master’s degree in conflict and coexistence from Brandeis University. Since graduation, he has worked on Capitol Hill, doing what he can to contribute to the country that welcomed him, educated him, and provided him with opportunities he would never have in Gaza. He does this despite the M16 bullet that remains lodged in his back, a painful reminder of a complex personal story in which his father’s love and humanity remains his guiding light.
Yousef is an example of a Gazan who is trying to find a way out of the seemingly intractable conflict in his homeland. Yousef’s father died in 2009, and he did not attend his funeral for fear of risking his ability to return to the U.S. He has only seen his mother once, in Germany, when she was allowed to travel there for medical treatment. His most beloved family members, friends and teachers are living without adequate electricity, clean water, shelter or hope. He sees that the U.S. is not yet doing what it can to alleviate their suffering. So, he is using his own story and his legacy of faith in humanity to build support for doing what we can to protect the people of Gaza.
We do not have to reduce our empathy for and solidarity with Israelis living on the border with Gaza in order to feel empathy for and solidarity with Palestinians living in Gaza. Our elected officials here in the U.S. can and should be doing whatever they can to help avoid further suffering and bloodshed by taking and encouraging steps that protect the lives of Palestinians in Gaza. Steps such as unfreezing funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees, encouraging the easing of the blockade on goods and equipment, and supporting infrastructure initiatives such as the proposed Gaza Seaport are in keeping with the U.S. State Department’s mission to “advance the security of the American people by assisting countries around the world to build more democratic, secure, stable and just societies.” (https://www.state.gov/j/index.htm)
In Pirkei Avot 2:21 Rabbi Tarfon teaches: “You are not expected to complete the work, and neither are you free to abdicate your responsibility for it.” When it comes to the work to be done in Gaza, our first responsibility is to recognize that innocent human beings are suffering, and to find a way to identify with them. Our second responsibility is to hold our own country accountable to its own values. When we have the courage to take these steps, we join the ranks of new leadership that will transform legacies of conflict into legacies of peace.
Rabbi Nancy Kasten teaches Jewish Mindfulness. She has has helped to introduce the Dallas community to Israeli organizations and groups including Roots/Shorashim/Judur, Creativity for Peace, Polyphony, the Shalom Hartman Institute and Beit Berl College, and is a co-founder of the Dallas Chapter of JStreet.

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