Congress Must Be Allowed to Visit Israel

Congress Must Be Allowed to Visit Israel

President of the JCRC of Atlanta Harold Kirtz argues that Israel must remain a nonpartisan ally.

Harold Kirtz
Harold Kirtz

Life moves fast under Donald Trump. Concerned only with his own well-being and electability, he cares little for how his rhetoric and behavior impact others. Trump has now created a controversy over Israel that did not need to happen. And his encouragement of Netanyahu to act against Israel’s interest, and Netanyahu’s falling into the Trump trap, is mind-blowing!

The controversy over whether Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib should be allowed to go to Israel is unfortunate. The answer should always be “Go.” As a Jewish community, we should encourage the congresswomen to go many times. The more that they experience Israel, the greater the likelihood that they will at least appreciate Israel’s position, even if they do not agree with it.

More knowledge about Israel is better for Israel and for the Jewish people. Even if the congresswomen did not want to partake of all of the guided trip; even if they wanted to see more of the West Bank than was on the original schedule, they should still be encouraged to go.

I have even called on the congresswomen to meet with the Palestinian leadership and encourage the Palestinians to engage forthrightly with the Israeli leadership on the issue of peace. They should be the ones to push for a two-state solution that would permit both Israel and a Palestinian state to live side-by-side, each respecting the other and living in a state of peaceful coexistence.

The longer the Palestinians hold out for a single state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, the harder it will be to create two states. The Palestinians may still desire to have the entire land. But if people like the congresswomen can see that Israel is strong and permanent, but also is willing to work with the Palestinians, the more likely they will put pressure on them to come to an accommodation and not insist on their maximalist position. That should be the hope of every American.

Back to the blunder of Trump and Netanyahu. Earlier in August, Congress passed a resolution against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement by an over 300-vote margin, soundly defeating any effort to give sanction to the movement. If Trump and Netanyahu wanted to minimize any support for the BDS movement, they have done just the opposite. They have given more fuel to the movement.
This spotlight on Israel is not a good one. As a democratic state, and especially as a Jewish one, it should never prevent or even hinder the visit of any member of Congress.

To be crass, the United States gives Israel over $3 billion a year in assistance. Israeli companies are coming to the United States in droves, including here in Atlanta. The connections between the U.S. and Israel are vital to Israel – and to the Jewish community. What Netanyahu has done is throw a monkey wrench into the relationship.

Netanyahu must now apologize and announce that the congresswomen, and any congressperson or congressional staff, is very welcome to come to Israel. Even if they desire to see more of the Palestinian side, Israel must be very flexible, yet show them the side of Israel that so many of us have seen and know about. Netanyahu must also stop being so dependent on Trump and following his every lead. It is dangerous for Israel.

Finally, Republicans must insist to Trump that he stop the politicization of the relationship with Israel.

Israel must remain a nonpartisan ally. Eventually, the Democrats will be back in power, for at least a while. Israel must retain a welcoming approach to both parties.

Trump is using Israel as a political wedge; he must not be allowed to get away with that. It is not good for the United States; it is not good for Israel; it is not good for the Jews.

Harold Kirtz is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.

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