Rep. Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, has created a firestorm over anti-Semitic comments she made last month. In Minnesota, she has been part of a Somali community that has worked closely with the local Jewish community since it started arriving from the war-torn country of Somalia in 1993. The two communities have developed strong ties and have joined together to fight hunger and illiteracy and to raise money for one another to respond to discrimination and threats of violence.
With her remarks, which are not the first she has made, Rep. Omar has caused concern not only in Congress but in her home district and in much of the country. She has basically attacked Israel for its policies towards the Palestinians, but has gone further in perpetuating anti-Semitic memes. Steve Hunegs, longtime executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Minnesota, has had discussions with her over the years and tried to provide her information about the Jewish community and Israel.
But her views towards Israel and the Palestinians are certainly colored by her several years spent in a refugee camp to escape the violence in her own homeland. Her strong views have now gotten her in hot water on the national scene. She has apologized for anti-Semitic comments that she has made, but some question her sincerity. She then questioned what she perceives as continuing attacks against her.
But here is a proposition for Rep. Omar to consider. With her concern for the Palestinians and what she perceives as the treatment of them by Israelis, she should now channel her energies to the solving of the Israel-Palestinian issue. Rep. Omar should sit down with Palestinian leaders and try to convince them to make peace with Israel.
Many who support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel, including Rep. Omar, have the impression that the main issue, in fact the only real issue, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is the “occupation” by Israel over the Palestinians. However, this view is a limited and incorrect one. The main issue is the continuing failure of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as an independent Jewish state and to live side-by-side as two states in peaceful relations.
Despite occasional expressions by Palestinian leader [Mahmoud] Abbas and a few others to say that they support a two-state solution, their actions and most of their words belie that position. The Palestinian leadership must forthrightly stand for and actively promote a belief and a reality that there must be a two-state solution — two states for two peoples.
Now this does not mean that Israel does not have responsibilities towards its Arab citizens. Israel must ensure the civil and political rights of all of its citizens, whether they be Jewish, Arab, Druse, Christian, or other. Many Arabs have enjoyed generally good lives in Israel, but Israel has not always made good on those goals and policies, and it must do more in that regard.
But the resolution of the conflict itself is mostly in the hands of the Palestinians. If the Palestinian leadership were to commit themselves to a real two-state solution, it is my belief that the overwhelming number of Israelis – and Jews throughout the world – would welcome a peaceful solution that can be trusted.
This is where Rep. Omar can come in. She and her fellow Muslim Congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, have the unique opportunity and position in their communities and now in national leadership to sit down with Palestinian leaders and convince them that they must enter into serious negotiations with Israel and resolve the conflict.
The Arab world has 22 states that are Arab; the Muslim world has 55 states that are majority Muslim. In fact, because of the conflict, Jews have been kicked out of many of the Arab states. Certainly, the Jewish world should be able to have one state, a state that remains Jewish-majority and the nation-state of the Jewish people.
For those Jews who believe in a single bi-national state in Israel between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, such an outcome eventually becomes a state in which Jews are a minority and would eventually face discrimination, if not worse. I am speaking of the Jewish Voice for Peace and other organizations that see the conflict differently and who have bought into the proposition that the occupation is the main, or only, issue. Such a result will not end well for the Jews.
Harold Kirtz is president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Atlanta.