Many of you have probably heard of the latest current events news regarding Israel. Israel and AIPAC (American-Israel Public Action Committee) periodically host trips by US Congress people to tour Israel. This is to promote and foster understanding and cooperation between the two countries and for good public relations.
In 2018, the first two Muslim woman were elected to the House of Representatives. Rashida Tlaib is Palestinian and Ilhan Omar is Somalian and both have been antagonistic, even hostile to Israel. There has been a lot of controversy over remarks and references, and both have been accused of being antisemitic. Both, of course, are sympathetic to BDS, the boycott, divest and sanction program that is Palestinian born. Those in favor contend that Israel is “occupying” the Palestinian territories and that this is a legitimate way to compel Israel to negotiate Palestinian rights. Those against state that this is no more than propaganda and ignores the many times Israel has indeed offered to negotiate, the constant attacks on Israel’s sovereign state, and the restraint Israel shows in face of those attacks, etc.
These two women petitioned Israel to visit. They were to visit, mostly, the border with Gaza and areas inside Judah and Samaria/West Bank, where Tlaib’s family still lives. Israel granted them permission. At first.
US President Trump then issued a statement that these two are antisemitic and hate Jews, and that Israel should not let them in. The Interior Minister of Israel, who is right-wing, and the prime minister, Bibi Netanyahu, rescinded their offer and decided that these two women can not visit Israel, but Rashida Tlaib would be granted special humanitarian dispensation to visit her aged, 90-year-old grandmother, and that’s it. The Israeli leaders claimed that they decided that since these two supported BDS and do not acknowledge the right of Israel to exist made them both hostiles. A new law passed by the Knesset a few years ago allows the government to deny access to anyone they feel is a threat to the country.
This, of course, set off a firestorm of outrage across America, and even the world. There were those who agreed with the Israeli’s decision to not allow entry, but the majority of opinions, from both sides of the isle, were pretty consistent that this was not a good idea. They feel that Israel, being a democratic country, was being, in the words of Thomas Friedman, op-ed writer for the New York Times, was being a banana republic.
Many of the more liberal politicians criticized Israel for being too willful and even prejudiced. They were aghast that the government of Israel would treat certain members of the US government in such an exclusive manner. They were very disappointed that Israel would be so willful, being the Democracy that it holds itself up to be, and that even more disappointing was that it made Israel look to be discriminatory.
Kevin McCarthy, the minority whip of the House of Representatives made an interesting point. Representative McCarthy is a Republican and a supporter of President Trump. Here, he digressed with the president. He suggested that these two should have joined the delegation of other Congresspeople on that junket. They should have been invited to see such monuments as Yad v’Shem that honors and remembers the victims of the Holocaust. If they declined that invitation, then that would have said it all.
Why is Israel held to such a high standard? Have any Congresspeople asked to visit North Korea and visit the three-generation prison camps? Has anyone sought to boycott, divest and sanction China for “occupying” Tibet? Or Russia occupying Ukraine and Crimea? Or the (gasp) US government for occupying Native American land?
In a recent portion of the Torah, Hashem told Moses to tell the Israelites to harass the Midianites for trying to tempt the masses into misconduct. They were also ordered to take the land and eliminate all the pagans that were occupying the promised land. Yes, some were allowed to stay who agreed to obey the seven Noahide laws. In that context, this isn’t so farfetched.
On the other hand, we are also commanded to love our fellows as ourselves. The sages say one of the greatest mitzvot we can accomplish is turning an enemy into a friend. So there is a precedent of tolerance and humanitarianism in our heritage.