While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had every right to reject Representatives Illan Omar’s and Rashida Tlaib’s applications to “visit” Israel, his earlier decision to grant their requests to enter the Jewish state was the correct decision. Bowing to President Trump’s ham-handed, semi-directive to bar their visit was a poor, but understandable decision. After all, Israel knows that President Trump delivered on promises other Presidents have made, but never kept; specifically, to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump also delivered on his promise to negate the Iran nuclear deal, which, in our judgment, was also the right thing to do.
In the interest of full disclosure, I view Israel as a modern-day miracle. There is no other example of a nation being formed with the leftovers, survivors if you will, of the greatest mass murder in history, a composite of tragically broken families. More astounding, in a couple of generations that weak and struggling State has grown into an economic, intellectual, cultural and military powerhouse. The United Nations, which codified the transfer of control of this land from the British Mandate to the new Jewish State simultaneously provided substantial land for a Palestinian State (more accurately, an Arab State). The rest is well-known history. Israel accepted the UN partition plan and the Arabs rejected it and, immediately, went to war with the loudly expressed intent to wipe the new Jewish state off the map, and its people off the earth. It just didn’t work out that way; nor have any of the other wars of attempted annihilation, including the ’67 conflict in which Egypt, Syria, and Jordan provoked Israel into a war that Israel won in six days and wound up with the West Bank including all of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and the Sinai Peninsula under its control. The Sinai was later returned to Egypt following the ’73 Yom Kippur War in which Egypt and Syria tried, yet again, to crush the Jewish State. Egypt, defeated on the field of battle, received the Sinai back as part of a process that brought about a long-lasting peace between Egypt and Israel.
I have traveled to the Middle East and written about that tortured region extensively. I have met with many Israelis and many Israeli officials. I have also traveled to the West Bank and met with Arabs there, even during the tensest of times—at the height of an intifada, a violent uprising. I have spent many hours with courageous men and women on both sides of that awful divide.
No nation has an obligation to host anyone committed to the idea of its destruction. The BDS movement, that Representatives Omar and Tlaib embrace and support has one real purpose, the destruction of the Jewish state. It is laughable to call Israel an Apartheid State as the BDS movement does. Until 2015 and the commencement of the so-called knife Intifada and the tough Israeli countermeasures to deal with the attacks on Israelis, annual polls revealed that an astounding 52 percent of the Palestinians in East Jerusalem would have actually preferred Israeli over Palestinian citizenship.
The strongest weapon Israel has had to combat the falsehoods its antagonists purvey has been to welcome visitors who harbor reservations about Israel and her people. We doubt that Representatives Omar and Tlaib would have tempered their negative and anti-Semitic views of Israel and her people, but everyone traveling with them would have seen a nation and its people that bear little resemblance to the rot the BDS sycophants purvey.
Israel has welcomed Americans of all persuasions to the country to observe, and talk to whomever they wanted. And, until a few years ago, it was routine for visitors to visit West Bank communities.
Elias Freij, the late Palestinian mayor of Bethlehem, was one of the bravest men I have ever met. We met for an hour or two in his office during the first intifada. He had just been threatened by Yasir Arafat with “ten bullets in the chest” for advocating an end to the intifada. But he met openly with me and talked of his dream of an incredibly prosperous West Bank if only there were peace between the Palestinians and Israel. My meeting with Mayor Freij was brokered by Judge Abraham Sofaer, who was then the Chief Legal Officer of the US State Department under Secretary George Schultz, and I was accompanied to the meeting by retired Israeli Brigadier General Yitzhak Segev.
That was a time when many Israelis and many Palestinians earnestly sought peace. But today, rejectionists on both sides are pretty much determining what passes for dialogue. Today, Israelis advocating reconciliation with the Palestinians are rare, and Palestinians advocating peace with the Israelis do so at their own peril.
Bibi should have welcomed Omar and Tlaib as long as they came with a delegation of US congressional representatives. There was no downside to doing that because the delegation would have seen a thriving democracy where Palestinians vote and serve in the courts, the Knesset, staff the hospitals and enjoy, by far, more human rights than anywhere else in the Arab world, and in small, but growing numbers, even enlist in the Israeli Defense Forces.
President Trump should have stayed out of it.