By Peter C. Herman
In the introduction to his 1983 novel about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which really means, the Israeli response to Palestinian terrorism, John le Carré talks about how he went about researching The Little Drummer Girl.
He tried to speak with the PLO representative in London, but got stood up. Le Carré had better luck with Princess Dina of Jordan, who arranged for the famous author to visit Beirut, where eventually, he had the honor of talking with Yasser Arafat, who asked, “Mr. David, why have you come here?” After le Carrè answered, “I have come to put my hand on the Palestinian heart,” Arafat answered, pressing le Carrè’s hand to his breast, “Mr. David! It is here! It is here!” Le Carrè, it’s fair to say, was charmed. Even after le Carrè visited with “one of the extremist splinter groups,” the people who want every Israeli dead and the state erased, he was charmed.
But he also went to Israel, and in Israel, le Carré heard the other side of the story. He doesn’t repeat this (as he does the Palestinian side), but that is because we already know it: “the official arguments are familiar, and fall more easily on our Western ear.” But the key, and why le Carré’s experience applies to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to ban Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from entering the country due to their support for boycotting Israel, is that the Israelis were only too glad to present their side. “If you want to talk to someone in Israel, you say so, and in almost every case you can.” Unlike the organizationally-challenged Palestinians, “Nobody kept me waiting.” When le Carré showed up, “Generals in shirtsleeves leapt to their feet, clapped me on the shoulder, had all the time in the world.”
The result is a novel that does something extraordinary. While le Carré obviously sympathizes with the Palestinian cause, he also clearly sympathizes with Israel. He understands full well the direct line between the Holocaust and the creation of Israel, and he portrays his Israeli spymaster, Kurtz, the man charged with finding and killing the Palestinian terrorist who is “their best operator in years,” as both determined and precise in his violence in defense of Israel. The goal is not oppression, but to “save lives” by stopping the people killing the innocent.
Hardly the bloodthirsty monster that a rabidly pro-Palestinian author might create.
My point is that by refusing to allow Representatives Omar and Tlaib to enter the country, Israel not only plays right into the hands of its enemies, but they lose a terrific chance to present their side to the story. Instead of banning them, the Netanyahu government should welcome them as the Israelis did John le Carré. Not only welcome, but they should give them a guided tour of the country. The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin reports that “the Israelis objected to the congresswomen’s ‘one-sided’ itinerary, which included multiple stops in the Palestinian territories even as the government was discouraging Israeli groups from meeting with them.”
If that’s the case, then banning them is even more self-defeating. Let the distinguished Representatives see the scorched landscape around Gaza, thanks to the incendiary balloons that float over the fence and drop fire below. Let them see the “terror tunnels” that were surely not intended for trips to the beach. Give them a tour of Yad Vashem. Let them talk to the full range of Israeli politicians and pundits on both the left and the right, and let them see how Israel, for all its flaws and, yes, highly misguided policies, remains a fully-functioning democracy. Let them see that calling Israel an “apartheid state” is a toxic myth.
By refusing Representatives Omar and Tlaib entry, Israel seems to have adopted the Palestinian tradition of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Let them in, and let them see Israel for what it is, not for what its enemies make it out to be.
Peter C. Herman teaches at San Diego State University is the author of Unspeakable: Literature and Terrorism from the Gunpower Plot to 9/11, which includes a chapter on the Middle East.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: