In a step supported by President Donald Trump, the Israeli government did something unprecedent last week, denying entry to two sitting U.S. congresswomen, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
We believe, as does a strong consensus of the American Jewish community, that this action was wrong. No elected members of the Congress should ever be denied entry to the Jewish state – our greatest ally – even if their views run counter to Israel’s.
Furthermore, by denying them entry, Israel created sympathy for them among its friends in Congress, providing Tlaib and Omar yet another platform from which to criticize Israeli policy (an opportunity they have taken advantage of subsequent to their denial of entry).
Let’s be clear, this was an unforced error. Israel’s Ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, had already stated that the congresswomen would be allowed to enter the country. An about-face such as this only poses questions – justifiable or not – about who said what to whom in the interim.
This action was ultimately self-defeating and it further strains relations between American Jews and the State of Israel.
Of course, the condemnation of Israel’s actions in this one case should not be taken as a defense of the anti-Israel positions Tlaib and Omar have taken. Their statements and actions regarding Israel are one-sided, factually incorrect and occasionally hate-filled. They deserve condemnation for this, and we have not been shy in doing so.
Since news of Israel’s ban was reported, the JCRC has received several comments and phone calls questioning why we issued our statement condemning the Israeli government, often with a familiar refrain that we do not speak for them (the callers) when we issue such statements. This is true. We do not, and don’t pretend to, speak for every Jewish person in our community.
However, when there is a strong consensus, we believe it is important that our community speaks with one voice.
So, how is consensus determined?
Admittedly, consensus can be hazy, falling somewhere between 51 and 100 percent on any given issue.
Our process involves first discussing the matter at hand internally, do we already have a position on an issue? Is this something we have spoken about in the past? Is it consistent with our previous stances?
We then look at our national agency, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (the umbrella organization for 125 JCRCs and 17 national agencies), checking to see if it has issued a statement or if it has an established position on the issue.
We look to the Jewish Federations of North America, which rarely issues political statements, to see what it is doing.
Finally, we look to other national Israel advocacy agencies to gauge their responses.
In this case, it became clear from the beginning that a strong consensus existed towards criticizing Israel. Even AIPAC and the Middle East Forum, two entities that rarely criticize the Jewish state, have issued statements criticizing its decision on the two congresswomen.
With all this information in hand, we felt quite comfortable issuing our own statement.
As JCRC director, I welcome conversations with those who don’t agree with us. I have the utmost respect for their positions, so if you disagree with our positions, please contact me.
It was nice hearing from so many in our community on this issue. I heard from those who strongly criticized the Israeli government, and from those who strongly defended its actions. It all comes from the same place … a deep love of Israel and of the United States.
(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)