Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer is correct to recommend welcoming a visit to Israel by Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.)—the first two Muslim congresswomen to date—“out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great U.S.-Israel alliance.”
Israel’s high respect for both chambers and both parties of Congress supersedes its deep reservations about the two legislators’ support for the BDS movement, identification with terrorist organizations (e.g., Muslim Brotherhood) and determination to weaken the 400-year-old bond between the American people and the Jewish state.
In fact, the worldview of these two legislators departs sharply from that of the vast majority of legislators on Capitol Hill, as well as in the state legislatures—27 of which have already adopted anti-BDS legislation. On July 23, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly (398:17) passed the anti-BDS House Resolution 246.
By welcoming a visit by Omar and Tlaib, Israel would display both tolerance of criticism and respect for Congress, which has systematically enhanced America’s unique ties with the Jewish state—sometimes in defiance of U.S. presidents—since before the 1948 establishment of Israel and the 1951 establishment of AIPAC.
For example, in 1891—six years before the first Zionist Congress and 57 years before the establishment of the Jewish state—the bipartisan House and Senate leadership joined some 400 Supreme Court justices, governors, mayors, university presidents, newspaper editors, clergy and leading businessmen in signing the Blackstone Memorial, which called for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.
In addition, Israel is aware of the U.S. legislature’s muscle, as displayed by the coercion of the executive branch to end American military involvement in Southeast Asia, Angola and Nicaragua, the overriding of the administration when forcing the USSR/Russia to allow free emigration, ending the support for South Africa’s apartheid regime, etc.
Israel realizes that tolerating criticism does not reflect vacillation, but open-mindedness.
Moreover, this would be far from the first visit by legislators known their criticism of Israel.
For example, Sen. William Fulbright (D-Ark., 1945-1975), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee (a heavyweight compared to freshman congresswomen Omar and Tlaib), stated on June 9, 1967: “They [Israel] know they have control of the Senate politically, and therefore whatever the Secretary [of State] tells them, they can laugh at him … .” Sen. Fulbright advocated economic pressure on Israel as a means to force a retreat to the pre-1967 lines.
Sen. Chuck Percy (R-Ill., 1967-1985), as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, supported President Ford’s and Secretary of State Kissinger’s reassessment of their Middle East policy (opposed by 76 senators), including the use of foreign aid and withheld arms sales as a means to force an Israeli withdrawal from parts of the Sinai Peninsula. Percy considered Yasser Arafat “a moderate leader” (during the early 1980s), while criticizing Israel’s supposed “intransigence,” contending that close U.S.-Israel ties undermined U.S.-Arab relations.
At the same time, leading U.S. legislators known for their criticism of Israel have demonstrated open-mindedness, always welcoming visits—to their Capitol Hill offices—by Israeli leaders and diplomats, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who paid frequent visits to many Capitol Hill offices before becoming Israel’s top executive.
Moreover, Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan., 1961-1997) and his top staffers held many meetings with Israelis, irrespective of the senator’s full identification with Secretary of State Jim Baker’s tough criticism and pressure of Israel; his call for a five percent cut in foreign aid to Israel; his close ties with Saddam Hussein, whom he considered an ally of the United States (until the August 1990 invasion of Kuwait); and his contention that Israel was partly responsible for the 1990 murder of Col. William Higgins by Hezbollah terrorists.
Obviously, a respectful Israeli attitude towards the American public and its representatives on Capitol Hill requires that Israel also provide a well-documented profile of the two congresswomen’s Palestinian interlocutors (the Palestinian Authority): hate education in Palestinian schools and in the mosques; subversion and terrorism against Arab regimes; long-lasting ties with anti-U.S. elements in the Middle East and beyond; posing a clear and present threat to every pro-U.S. Arab regime and to the United States itself.
Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.
This article first appeared in The Ettinger Report.