Omar and Tlaib: A Nobel Peace Prize awaits

By REUVEN H. TAFF
August 22, 2019 22:54
4 minute read.
Omar and Tlaib: A Nobel Peace Prize awaits

U.S. Representatives Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) react as they discuss travel restrictions to Palestine and Israel during a news conference at the Minnesota State Capitol Building in St Paul, Minnesota, August 19, 2019. (photo credit: CAROLINE YANG/REUTERS)

My brother called me on Friday. He was pretty upset. He lives in northern Israel, just a few kilometers from the Lebanon border. I asked him why he was so upset. He told me that he was angry at the two democrats, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who have both been the center of attention recently. My brother felt that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the right decision in banning them from the country.

I thought a lot about that phone call with my brother. I definitely understand his position. Both congresswomen spurned the invitation to join with 41 Democrats and 31 Republicans in a recent fact-finding visit to Israel, where they met with not just Israeli officials and citizens, but with Palestinian officials and citizens as well. Instead, the two very vocal freshmen congresswomen planned their own separate itinerary, organized by an organization called Miftah, an organization that according to The New York Times (August 16), “has proudly praised female suicide bombers and pushed the medieval blood libel.”

But for a moment let’s forget about all of that. Let’s forget for the moment that Omar and Tlaib, since they were elected to Congress, have led the charge against Israel, especially supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement whose goal is delegitimizing the Jewish state. Let’s forget for the moment about President Donald Trump’s tweets calling Israel weak if it allowed the two representatives into the country. Let’s forget for the moment about Israel’s prime minister refusing to allow these two outspoken legislators into the country unless they promised not to promote their agenda of criticizing and disparaging the Jewish state. Let’s take their animus toward Israel and all of the brouhaha and compartmentalize it. For the moment.

No matter how one feels about Netanyahu’s decision to ban Omar and Tlaib from visiting Israel (their itinerary actually never mentions Israel – “Palestine” was their destination), the crux of the issue is that these two congresswomen ought to do what all elected officials should do when faced with their own anger or bias: Stop their vilification of Israel, take the time to go to Israel and to the West Bank and meet with officials and citizens of both sides of the conflict and use their good offices to help work toward a resolution to the conflict.

These two US congresswomen, because of their Muslim and Palestinian heritage, are in the unique position, unlike any other member of Congress or any president, to bring to the table Israelis and Palestinians, to assist both parties to find common ground and create a basis for a two-state solution. But they would have to do some homework before they leave on their trip.

Before their trip, they should prepare and read up on the history of the conflict. They should be privy to the 1947 Partition Plan which the United Nations adopted and which Israel accepted and the Arabs rejected. They should review the historical facts of the many times Israel offered the Palestinians land for peace which were all rejected by the Palestinian leadership. At a summit convened by president Bill Clinton in 2000, Israel offered the Palestinians a state with land that included 92% of the West Bank and all of Gaza, along with a capital in east Jerusalem.

After the Palestinian Authority rejected that offer, Israel modified it in 2001 to include 97% of the West Bank. Again, the answer was no. In 2008, another offer was made and was rejected. And in 2009, when president Barack Obama put pressure on Israel that resulted in a 10-month settlement freeze as a gesture to restart negotiations, the Palestinians refused to even come to the negotiating table. Omar and Tlaib should also study a map and see how vulnerable Israel, the size of New Jersey, is to those bordering countries like Lebanon and Syria that remain enemies of the Jewish state. They should also study the negotiations which resulted in peace agreements which Egypt and Jordan forged with the Jewish state.

In addition to preparing for their trip by studying the history, they should read about and see in action first-hand the work of an Arab-Israeli Organization called Hand-in-Hand, co-founded by Israeli Arab educator Amin Khalaf and Israeli American educator Lee Gordon. The organization is a network of integrated, bilingual schools for Jewish and Arab children in Israel. It is a model of co-existence and could be instructive for these two congresswomen to meet with students, faculty and parents. The project is considered to be one of the most innovative integrated social movements, impacting more than 10,000 people every day, proving that Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, can live together peacefully.

Of course, should Omar and Tlaib seriously consider accepting these suggestions and make that trip to Israel and to the West Bank – using their influence to bring the parties together to make every effort to finally achieve what has been seemingly unachievable – there is still no guarantee that they would be successful. But, if they were successful, I would be proud to see them receive a Nobel Peace Prize. While I am not holding my breath, I can still hope and dream.

The writer is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Mosaic Law Congregation in Sacramento, California.


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