Tlaib and Omar Can Make History If They Choose
Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) plan to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories during the August recess.
Tlaib, a Palestinian-American, has said that she wants to visit with her extended family, and Omar has stated she is coming to the Holy Land to “learn more.” Although both elected officials have repeatedly offended large swaths of the Jewish community with comments that need no re-hashing, they will travel to the Holy Land with a unique, perhaps transformational, opportunity.
When Representatives Tlaib and Omar step off the plane at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport, they will immediately see a thriving, vibrant Israel, where cranes dot the coastline; where some of the world’s largest and most important technology and life sciences companies have made significant investments; and where GDP growth clocked in at 4.4 percent in 2018.
They will see a population — 20 percent of which is not Jewish — in constant motion. The fact is that Israel, as a Jewish state, has never been stronger, much to the majority of the world’s chagrin. By acknowledging to themselves that the Jewish state of Israel is not going anywhere, the congresswomen can set the stage for a historic trip.
Tlaib and Omar will also arrive in the region with arguably more credibility on the Palestinian street than any American official in recent memory. They can speak truth to the Palestinian leadership, and convince them that the future of their children lies in the development of an economy based on the inflow of global investment — one that leverages the Palestinian peoples’ reverence of education.
They can also emphasize the fact that establishing a civil society that mirrors Israel — rather than demonizes it — will mean that mothers and fathers no longer have to weep over the graves of their young sons. Surely, they can convince the Palestinian Authority (PA) that university graduation ceremonies and weddings are far preferable to funerals. By making these points, the congresswomen can represent the true voices of the Palestinian people.
If they are to embrace the role as peace ambassadors, they will need to seize the opportunity to speak honestly not just about the dreams of most Palestinians, but also about the forces that undermine these dreams. To wit, they should raise these five issues:
Courageous Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh and others have written about increasing frustration on the streets of the West Bank and even in Gaza. This frustration has even led to protests, not against Israel, but against leaders who keep themselves and their cronies in power, while diverting international aid to private coffers.
Journalists covering developments in Gaza and the West Bank are often threatened and/or jailed. Freedom of the press and free speech are core values of any democracy. Shouldn’t the authorities who are supposedly steering their people towards a Palestinian state begin to apply such standards?
Israel has offered to build a massive field hospital on the border with Gaza to help alleviate the suffering of sick Palestinians — a gesture that even Hamas approves of, but not the PA. In fact, the PA’s policy is to oppose anything approaching normal contact with the “Israeli occupiers,” even if it means innocent Palestinians could die.
While the PA constantly pleads poverty, it keeps upping payments to terrorists (and their families) who maim and murder Jews. The poorest Palestinians in the meantime have seen their benefits slashed.
Have either Tlaib or Omar read the United Nations Relief and Works Agency’s anti-peace grade-school curriculum? Not a single map identifies Israel, while terrorists are venerated as heroes. Yet another generation of Palestinian children in the Middle East are being subject to brainwashing that denies the legitimacy and humanity of their Israeli neighbors.
Last month, a working group of economists, diplomats, policy experts, industrialists, real estate developers, and academics gathered in Bahrain for what could have been a historic meeting of the minds. The purpose was to help chart an economic course for the Palestinian people that would dramatically lift the standard of living in the West Bank. The problem was that the Palestinian leadership didn’t care what the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and the Committee on Foreign Investment in the US (CIFIUS) had to say.
In barring Palestinians from attending the Bahrain conference, the PA sent a clear signal that it will reject any discussion that forecloses on the idea of destroying the Jewish state through the so-called “right of return.”
Most Palestinians are frustrated with the lack of progress. They look at Israel and know it is their own government that has prevented them from experiencing prosperity. They also see what happens to journalists who attempt to expose the truth, so they remain quiet. If Representatives Tlaib and Omar are honest with themselves, they know the Jewish state of Israel is a settled question. So these two officials, elected to one of the world’s most esteemed manifestations of democracy, have a choice: They can travel to the Holy Land as beacons of truth and visionaries, or they can go as agitators and enablers, inflaming an already volatile situation.
If they really care about the Palestinian people — if they genuinely believe the Palestinians are entitled to dream about anything other than eliminating the Jewish state — the choice should be easy.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean and Director of the Global Social Action Agenda at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human rights organization.