Israel Updates and Analysis

by Lisa Armony, Director, JFFS Rose Project

August 21, 2019

 

Israel's Denial of Entry to U.S. Congresswomen

                    

If you’ve perused social media in the last few days, you’ve likely seen spirited discourse and sharp differences of opinion over Israel’s decision to bar entry to Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar. Notably, this was a rare instance in which several prominent national Jewish organizations for whom support of Israel is fundamental to their missions expressed discomfort if not opposition to a decision made by its government. 

Concern about the visit by the congresswomen stems from their very public support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and from their choice of trip organizer. Miftah, which was to have funded and coordinated the trip, is connected to the BDS movement and has issued past statements that are Antisemitic and supportive of terrorism. This brought the congresswomen and their trip into conflict with the March 2017 amendment to the Entry into Israel Law, which denies entry to any individual who “knowingly published a public call to engage in a boycott against the State of Israel or has made a commitment to participate in such a boycott.” This legislation is similar to laws elsewhere that keep people who threaten or call for the harm of a country out that country.
 
The Israeli government sees BDS as a form of political and economic warfare. Its leaders are banned out of concern that they will engage in activities intended to harm the state.  The trip, which planners called a visit to Palestine and which did not include meetings with Israeli government or opposition figures like visits by other foreign officials normally do, was seen by many in this vein. 
 
It is important to remember that BDS does not just exist in theory. For many people, BDS is very real and tangible. From Israeli academics excluded from international conferences or publications because of their nationality to international performers bullied to stay away from Israel, and from Jewish activists shunned from progressive causes to Jewish college students facing a constant barrage of aggressive tactics and actions on their campuses, the actions by BDS supporters are a multi-pronged assault on Jewish livelihoods, history, identity, and our place in conversations and issues we care about. Most recently, BDS activists in California sought to bring their anti-Israel rhetoric and divisive politics into our high school classrooms with anti-Israel and Antisemitic messages built into proposed curriculum.    
 
The upcoming Israeli election – the second one this year – and internal U.S. politics are operating in the background of this controversy.  The role they may have played is certainly fodder for speculation by pundits. What should not be forgotten, however, is that even as Tlaib’s and Omar’s trip was cancelled, Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri granted Tlaib a humanitarian visa so that she could visit her grandmother who lives in the West Bank, contingent on her pledge not to call for boycotts during her stay. Tlaib has since said that she does not want to visit under those conditions. 
 
Some American Jewish organizations fully supported Israel’s decision. Those that raised public objections expressed powerful support for Israel and strong opposition to BDS and to Tlaib’s and Omar’s anti-Israel and pro-BDS positions. Many noted that although they doubted the wisdom of Israel’s decision, Israel was within its right as a sovereign nation to make it. 

This situation highlights an important point that often gets lost in our intercommunal debates over Israel’s actions, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one of the most divisive issues confronting the Jewish community. There is a major conversation in the Jewish professional world about a growing gap between Israel and American Jewry, and a fear of American Jews distancing ourselves from Israel.  But if the statements made by opponents of the decision show us anything, it is that their criticism (which in some cases came after lengthy deliberations mired in considerable angst) is grounded in deep love for Israel and concern for its welfare. 

There was a time, particularly in Israel’s fledgling years, when American Jewish support for Israel came without (much) criticism, at least publically.  Today, that is changing, but the change is not necessarily driven by reduced commitment to Israel. To be sure, a small minority of American Jews does not support Israel’s existence as a Jewish state.  But for the vast majority, criticism is typically a reflection of a more mature relationship between a strong Israel—at a stage of its development when it is determining what its identity will be—and an American Jewish community, shaped by a uniquely American political experience, that feels compelled to be a part of the conversation because Israel is an essential part of their Jewish story. 

We don’t always agree with our loved ones, but that does not mean that our love for them is shaken. Similarly, one does not have to agree with every decision made in Jerusalem in order to support Israel. Differences of opinion over this or other decisions of the Israeli government must not divide us as a community.  If we remember that our differences are usually grounded in cherished shared values, shared history and memory, and a sense of shared fate, we can discuss challenging issues with empathy and respect, learn from each other, and most of all, engage. 

How Jewish values shape our Jewish identity and our relationships to Israel and to each other are explored in the Rose Project’s community learning program, OC iEngage.  New iEngage classes are forming for 2019-2020.  For more information visit contact Lisa@JFFS.org or visit www.JewishOC.org/iEngage.
 

 

 



 

 

 
Additional Resources and Information
 
 
Statements from National Organizations:

Statements from National Leaders:
Suggested Reading: