From the Desk of Avi Benlolo: No Ordinary Times

August 16, 2019


Tough decisions must be made.  Even when they are lose-lose. In this case, it depends which of the two you lose more on.  Only time will tell. But Israel has made tough decisions before, even under immense criticism. And each time, once the dust settles, the truth is revealed.

Israel's enemies are already on the march over its decision to disallow entry to Democratic Representatives, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. They have come out swinging, unleashing harsh press releases and editorials.

In her statement, Omar argues that this is a "...chilling response to a visit by government officials".  But should she be surprised, considering her conduct toward Israel? She and Tlaib have been accused of antisemitism and support of the boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) campaign.  

BDS is part of a campaign taken from the apartheid South Africa playbook which rightfully brought down that racist regime.  Its objective is the same for Israel - so why would anyone agree to playing this charade?

Omar and Tlaib could have joined a reported 40 Congress members representing both parties who just toured Israel. Instead, it appeared to everyone that they were on a personal mission. What good could have come from it?

Would the itinerary have included a study of the incredible progress Arab's have made in Israel? Would they have met Samer Haj Yehia, Israel's Bank Leumi new Chairman? Or his father Dr. Mohammed Saleem Haj Yehia who was one of the first Arab students at Tel Aviv University?  

Would they have spoken with Israel's first Supreme Court Judge, Abdul Rahman Zuabi or withAli Yahya, A former Ambassador to Finland and Greece on behalf of Israel? How about with Arab Israeli Knesset members like Nawaf Massalha, former Deputy Minister of Health or Hassmiya Jubara, the first Israeli Arab woman to become a member of Knesset?

Would Omarand Tlaib be open to learning that Israeli Arabs have an educational level multiple times higher than their neighbours in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt? That their per capita income is at least three times as much? That they are integrating in law, politics, diplomacy, military and law enforcement? That women and the LGBTQ community have equal rights?

Israel is certainly not perfect. Like anywhere else, it must overcome many problems.However, it cannot be blamed for the Palestinian Authority's failure to hold democratic elections since 2009;  Or because the PA lost control of the Gaza Strip to Hamas - a terror group that is sending rockets into Israel; or because it is corrupt, incites hate and antisemitism and squanders international funding.

Maybe they did plan the aforementioned-like meetings, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that Israel received their planned itineraries a few days ago, and it became clear they were “planning a campaign whose sole purpose was to strengthen the boycott and to undermine Israel's legitimacy.”

One wonders if Omar and Tlaib would have also seen Israel through a Jewish lens? Would they have visited with Dvir Sorek's family and offered condolences on his murder by Palestinian terrorists? Would they have learned that Sorek was part of a young Palestinian-Israeli group meeting regularly and working to build bridges of friendship - and not advocating for boycotting one another? Maybe.

Israel is striving to make peace, to build bridges and in between, figure out ways to defend itself on its borders and against Iran, which has threatened it with nuclear annihilation. It is also in the midst of a tough election campaign. In all of this, it is asked to rise to an impossible level of perfection unequal to other nations, and criticized when it can't.

There may not be one correct answer. I have always believed that taking people to Israelis a good thing when there is a willingness to understand all sides. But we do live in an upside down world - where Jewish legitimacy to the land is denied and antisemitism is present, even in the halls of power. These are certainly no ordinary times.  But one thing is for sure, Israel needs us now more than ever.

Shabbat Shalom,

~ Avi

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