Shabbat August 16, 2019/16 Av 5779
A well-known Jewish story tells of a boy who spread gossip only to find himself feeling badly for doing so. He went to his rabbi to ask how he might make amends. The rabbi instructed him to take a feather pillow, go into a field and cut it open. The boy did so and watched as the wind took the feathers in every direction. When he returned to the rabbi the boy asked what to do next.
The rabbi instructed him to go collect the feathers. “But they have been carried in every direction,” the boy argued, “there is no way to collect them all.”
“Exactly,” said the rabbi, “so it is with the words we say. Once they are out in the wind there is no way to take them back.”
I was reminded of this story when I awoke to news that Prime Minister Netanyahu was trying to undo the damage done by yesterday’s decision to bar Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar from entry into Israel. I am glad Israel decided to allow Congresswoman Tlaib to visit her grandmother in the West Bank, but even before she announced should would not make the trip, the damage had been done.
The feathers have been carried away by the wind and there is no way to regather them all.
As with all things, facts matter. Here are some of the pertinent facts…
-The Congresswomen were encouraged to participate in the AIEF (AIPAC’s education foundation) Congressional Delegation mission last week. They refused and, instead, planned their own trip. The itinerary they submitted referred to the entire region as Palestine and did not include meetings with any policy makers (including Palestinian Members of Knesset.) Moreover, despite security concerns by both American and Israeli authorities, they insisted on going to Gaza.
-The Congresswomen are outspoken critics of Israel and active supporters of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Movement, and Israel has a law permitting it to refuse entry to the country by BDS supporters.
-Israel initially said they would permit the Congresswomen to enter Israel only to backpedal days before they were scheduled to arrive. Many explanations for this about-face have been put forward but it remains speculation as to the details leading up to that decision. It remains unclear whether this reversal was the result of Prime Minister Netanyahu wanting to appease his base or because of pressure from President Trump.
-Regardless of how this decision was reached it was, at best, unwise. I fully agree with the statements issued by AIPAC, Senator Schumer and others.
#AIPAC: We disagree with Reps. Omar and Tlaib’s support for the anti-Israel and anti-peace BDS movement, along with Rep. Tlaib’s calls for a one-state solution. We also believe every member of Congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally, Israel, firsthand.
#Sen. Schumer: Denying entry to members of the United States Congress is a sign of weakness, not strength. It will only hurt the U.S.-Israel relationship and support for Israel in America. No democratic society should fear an open debate. Many strong supporters of Israel will be deeply disappointed in this decision, which the Israeli government should reverse.
So while Israel has the RIGHT to decide who to permit entry into Israel and who to refuse entry, this decision is a prime example that it is possible to be “right but not correct.” The decision to bar duly-elected members of Congress was wrong, ill-advised and counter-productive.
Sadly, no matter what the Prime Minister does next, the damage has been done.
Those on one political extreme now have additional fodder to use when attacking Israel and those of us who support the Jewish State. Those on the other political extreme now have additional fodder to use when seeking to drive a partisan wedge in the bipartisan support for the US-Israel relationship. In the process, the commitment of those of us who are pro-Israel activists but are critical of this decision is now being questioned. And in the process, the BDS Movement, a movement that, at its core, seeks the ultimate destruction of Israel, has been given new life and increased momentum.
So where does that leave those of us who love Israel and are committed to the US-Israel relationship? A few thoughts.
Tlaib and Omar have every right to hold the positions they hold and advocate for them. I/we have every right to call them out when necessary but we do not have the right to silence them. Going forward I would hope both Israel and pro-Israel Americans will be more careful lest we take actions that reinforce their positions.
The US-Israel relationship is important for both nations. Israel relies on the ongoing support from the US and the US has directly benefited from, among other things, the technology developed by Israel. (Most recently the US inked a deal to acquire Iron Dome batteries in order to protect US troops deployed around the world.) Those on both political extremes are committed to driving a partisan wedge between the two countries. I feel a personal responsibility to redouble my efforts to prevent that from happening.
Bibi Netanyahu may be the longest serving Prime Minister in the history of Israel but Bibi is not Israel any more than Donald Trump is America. The countries and the relationship between them are far bigger than either of the two men. And at some point leadership of both countries will change. I am personally committed to helping to make sure that when that occurs there is still a strong relationship between Israel and America.
Yesterday was not a good day for the pro-Israel community. But today is a new day. And while the work of pro-Israel activists was made harder yesterday, that just means we have to work that much harder. For as my favorite Jewish saying goes, “This too shall pass.”
Rabbi Daniel Cohen