Above The Fold: Making the right decision

Everyone knows the story. Everyone has an opinion. There was probably not a single Shabbat table in either Israel or in the Diaspora that did not analyze, discuss and dissect the issue.

August 19, 2019 19:25
4 minute read.
Above The Fold: Making the right decision

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listens to testimony during a hearing of the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Subcommittee on "Confronting White Supremacy (Part I): The Consequences of Inaction" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 15, 2019. (photo credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS / REUTERS)

The media, in both the United States and in Israel, have been saturated with the saga of Democratic United States Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and her visit to Israel; her non-visit to Israel; her maybe-we-are, not-quite-sure-what-is-happening visit to Israel.

Everyone knows the story. Everyone has an opinion. There was probably not a single Shabbat table in either Israel or in the Diaspora that did not analyze, discuss and dissect the issue.

For some, the questions went something like: Was Israel correct to deny her entry? Would it have been better to permit her entry from the outset? Was visiting her grandmother a valid humanitarian reason to grant an exception to the pro-BDS US congresswoman’s entry to Israel? Should any and all US senators and representatives be automatically permitted entry regardless of their stance on Israel?

For others, the conversation took a different tack: Did Israel fall into a trap that Tlaib and her handlers set from the very beginning? Was it wise to deny her? Was it right to deny her? Should being wise be more important than being right?

These questions, while they may be important, are now beside the point. And there is nothing that hasn’t been already said. But what has not been discussed is still very important and very relevant, especially for the future.

The question we need to ask is: What factors and variables should the democratic state of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world, utilize in making this kind of decision?

The only answer is: Israel must make decisions that are best for Israel. That are best for Israel’s defense and that Israel must also act justly. These two issues, defense and justice, are often symbiotic.

And then there are certain givens: Israel must not be swayed by the reactions of world leaders, including those of the president of the United States. Israel will anger, disappoint and/or irk the world regardless of what she does. Israel can try to do what the world says it wants her to do, but even that will not change the way she is perceived by those who hate her.

And the bottom line is this: Israel has only one option and that is to do the right thing regardless of the inevitable blowback.

If the Rashida Tlaib/Donald Trump story has taught us anything, it is that Israel must advance the principle that support for Israel must be a bipartisan, wall-to-wall consensus in the US Senate and in the House of Representatives.

IF ISRAEL decides to ban Tlaib and her colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar from Minneapolis, so be it. If Israeli leadership wants to make an example of two members of the US Congress – and believes that message is worth the backlash from friends and foes – then that decision is a good decision. However, if Israel made that decision because US President Donald Trump asked them to, or because he tweeted that permitting them entry would show weakness, then it was a poor decision and the wrong one.

Israelis know that their actions are always under a microscope, more so than any other country in the world. So when they have time to make a decision – and there was plenty of time to contemplate this decision – it should be made with a clear understanding of the diplomatic costs. And before announcing its decision to the world, Israel should prepare and then immediately put into play proactive responses crafted to obviate the political fallout.

Waffling on a decision is one of the worst things Israel can do. It sends the wrong message. It clouds the correctness of the decision. It suggests that the foundation for the decision was shaky and that it was not based on conviction and proper values.

That, unfortunately, is what just happened.

Making the right decision even when it is politically unwise is still the right decision. One should try to explain the right decision, but Israel should never apologize for it.

What people do not understand is that there are serious limits to freedom of speech in democratic societies. Freedom of speech is not a free-for-all where anyone can say anything they want. There are restrictions. A call to action that will cause damage to a state or harm to anyone is an exception to freedom of speech. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement is an example of that type of action. The raison d’être of BDS is to hurt Israel. As such, in Israel, BDS supporters are not protected by freedom of speech.

Israel should not and cannot lend a platform to those who actively organize actions that will damage her. That is why, in 2017, Israel passed a law allowing the state to actively prevent BDS supporters from coming to Israel and using the country as a platform of attack.

One of the most important responsibilities of a state is to protect itself. It is a slam-dunk exception to freedom of speech.

Israel must protect itself. 

The writer is a political commentator. He hosts Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV.

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