The leader of America’s largest Jewish denomination is criticizing Israel’s decision to bar two Democratic congresswomen from entering the country.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said the move to block Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from visiting Israel was “wrong, full stop.”
“Democracies do not hide; they can protect their security and well-being and also celebrate robust debate and engagement in the public square,” Jacobs said in a statement on Thursday.
The Muslim congresswomen were planning to visit Jerusalem and the West Bank on a tour to highlight the plight of Palestinians. Both politicians were banned from entering Israel on Thursday over their support for the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. Supporters of the movement say it uses nonviolent, economic pressure to protest Israeli policies and advocate for Palestinians’ rights. Critics insist its ultimate aim is to delegitimize Israel.
President Donald Trump tweeted Thursday that it would “show great weakness” if Israel allowed the congresswomen to visit, claiming they “hate Israel & all Jewish people.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued that Tlaib and Omar’s trip itinerary “revealed that they planned a visit whose sole objective is to strengthen the boycott against us and deny Israel’s legitimacy.”
The Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Reform movement’s rabbinical arm, has condemned the BDS movement. In his statement, Jacobs said that he doesn’t agree with Omar and Tlaib about BDS.
Still, Jacobs said he believes the strongest response to the congresswomen would have been to meet them head-on, “rather than to draw the curtains and hide.”
“Israel should use the opportunity afforded by the representatives’ visit to demonstrate why BDS is wrong and fails to offer a reasonable path forward in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Jacobs said.
The rabbi said both Netanyahu and Trump acted “recklessly.” Jacobs called on Netanyahu to reverse his decision and “use this opportunity to demonstrate Israel’s thriving democracy to the world.”
Rabbi Jonah Pesner, leader of the Reform movement’s social action arm, also called on Netanyahu to reverse the decision.
About one-third (35%) of all American Jews identify with the Reform movement ― making it by far the largest Jewish denomination in the U.S. However, this progressive stream of Judaism has a small footprint in Israel. The country’s chief rabbinate doesn’t recognize the Reform Jewish movement as a legitimate branch of Judaism.
American and Israeli Jews also tend to have differing ideas about the prospect of peace in the region, according to a 2016 survey from the Pew Research Center. Most Israeli Jews don’t believe Israel can peacefully coexist with an independent Palestinian state (45%) ― while most American Jews (61%) are optimistic about a two-state solution.