On Israel, Omar and Tlaib Do Not Speak for Party, Says Jewish Democrat Max Rose

Freshman New York congressman argues Israel missed a chance to ‘advance its interests’ by quashing visit by pro-BDS lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. In any case, he says, there are more pressing issues on the U.S. agenda

From left, members elect Max Rose, D-N.Y., Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., and Jason Crow, D-Colo., attend the new member room lottery draw for office space in Rayburn Building on November 30, 2018.
Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call / Ge

"Reality TV-style" coverage that does not show "what’s actually happening" – that’s how Democratic Congressman Max Rose characterizes reports by some U.S. media of his party’s relationship with Israel.

A freshman lawmaker from New York who recently visited Israel, Rose was one of the 40 Democrats nationwide who “flipped” seats in the House that were previously held by Republicans, in the 2018 mid-term elections. A U.S. Army veteran who saw combat Afghanistan and a member of the Jewish community, Rose says he is “very committed to supporting Israel.”

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In an interview with Haaretz on Friday, 32-year-old Rose said that the drama of the past week surrounding the planned (and then cancelled) trip to Israel and the Palestinian Authority by Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, does not ultimately reflect the Democratic Party’s broader views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I think it’s very clear that I disagree with their views on BDS,” said Rose, referring to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, noting that most of his fellow Democrats in Congress are “committed to supporting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.” He added that “this doesn’t contradict the fact that I also support a two-state solution and want to see peace in the region – but not at the expense of Israel’s security.”

U.S. lawmaker Max Rose during an interview in Washington, D.C., December 2017.
Thomas McKinless / CQ-Roll Call

Rose spoke out on Thursday against the Israeli government’s decision to keep Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel – a decision that marked a reversal of the government’s original agreement to allow the two enter the country “out of respect for the U.S. Congress.” Israel’s reversal came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that Israel would “show weakness” by letting the congresswomen into the country.

“This was not the correct way for Israel to advance its own interests,” Rose explained. “I believe every member of Congress would benefit and learn from visiting Israel, because whenever someone goes to Israel, it becomes immediately apparent to them how real and unique are the security challenges Israel is facing.”

Rose himself has visited Israel twice – the first time, in 2009, as a private citizen, and the second time with a Congressional delegation earlier this month.

“I noticed two things that have changed since my previous visit,” he told Haaretz. “The first is a lot of economic growth and development, especially in Tel Aviv and Haifa. The second – the new security challenges that have also grown, whether it is [due to] the civil war in Syria, the instability in Gaza, new cyber threats and more.”

The group of visiting lawmakers, which included 41 Democratic members of the House of Representatives, received significantly less media coverage, both in Israel and in the United States, than the drama over Tlaib and Omar’s planned visit – especially after Trump’s intervention and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backtrack, on Thursday.

Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan during Donald Trump’s State of the Union address, 2019.
J. Scott Applewhite,AP

“You guys in the media have to put food on the table, I understand that,” Rose said jokingly. “I don’t have time to play reality TV or to worry about Twitter dramas. That’s not what the American people want. They want us to focus on the things they actually care about: health care prices, transportation and infrastructure problems, overdose deaths. I hope at some point the media will also start devoting more time to those issues.”

The majority of Rose’s constituents live on Staten Island, which for years was considered the “Republican stronghold” of New York City. Trump won the district by a 10-point margin in the 2016 election; Rose carried it by seven points in 2018. His campaign focused on health care and on his service in Afghanistan, which began in 2010 and lasted about five years, and for which he was awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.

In reply to a question about Trump’s quip that Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib are “the face of the Democratic Party” when it comes to Israel, Rose asserted: “That’s just not true. The face of the Democratic Party are the members who won back control of the House, like Colin Allred, Lauren Underwood, Abigail Spanberger, Elissa Slotkin, Donna Shalala, Jared Golden. It’s the party of working people, a party that wants to solve problems and improve lives.”

Some of the legislators Rose mentioned took part in the recent trip to Israel; indeed, half of all the Democratic members elected in 2018 joined the delegation. And Rose was not the only one of them who denounced Netanyahu’s decision not to allow Omar and Tlaib to enter the country.

Virginia congresswoman Elaine Luria – who, like Rose, is Jewish and has served in the military (she’s an officer in the U.S. Navy) – called the prime minister’s decision “a missed opportunity,” explaining that it would have been better if Omar and Tlaib could “see first-hand the existential threats at Israel’s borders and understand the significance to our own national security of maintaining a strong U.S.-Israel relationship.”

For his part, Collin Allred of Texas stated that, “Preventing members of Congress from visiting Israel to learn about our shared values and express their opinions is completely wrong and counter to the values of both of our great nations. I strongly urge Prime Minister Netanyahu to reconsider this decision.”

These statements were in keeping with the rare rebuke of Netanyahu’s decision issued by AIPAC, America’s most important pro-Israel lobby, which almost never criticizes the government in Jerusalem. The recent congressional trip to Israel was, in fact, organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, an organization that is affiliated with the lobby.

Rose called Netanyahu’s decision “short-sighted” and wrote on Twitter that he “strongly” disagrees with it. Yet he has also not shied from criticizing fellow lawmaker Omar in the past over some of her comments regarding Israel. For example, Rose said during a town hall meeting in March that some of Omar’s comments “really caused a lot of pain by bringing up anti-Semitic tropes.”

U.S. Representative Max Rose at a hearing on the 9-11 Victims fund before the Judiciary subcommittee on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C. on June 11, 2019.
Stefani Reynolds / Picture-Allia

Journalist Jacob Kornbluh reported at the time, in Jewish Insider, that Rose also promised to “work as hard as I can to make sure that these comments are not made again.”

In any event, Rose told Haaretz that he does not share the media narrative, according to which the main political battle in the United States right now is between Trump and “the squad” – i.e., congresswomen Omar, Tlaib, Alexandria-Ocassio Cortez and Ayana Presley.

Rose: “It sure doesn’t look like that to people on the ground in my district. This doesn’t reflect reality. People expect us to work hard against gun violence, to protect their health care, to end our country’s forever wars.”

As an army veteran, Rose said that the latter was in particular an issue on which he hoped to work together with Republican colleagues and potentially also the Trump administration. The president, according to several news reports, is considering a plan to withdraw all U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

“I don’t want to see multiple generations risk their lives in Afghanistan,” said Rose. “We have young people who are going to enlist this fall who were not even born when the war began.”

But does he really trust Trump to follow through with his intention? “Well,” the young lawmaker replied, “with this administration, you just never know. It’s day to day with them. But I hope we can work together on this one.”