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Monday, September 16, 2019

A total of 41 Republicans and 31 Democrats are in Israel on overlapping party tours to get a firsthand view of the complex security challenges Israel faces and to express their unconditional, bipartisan support for the Jewish state.

The delegations are touring Israel’s borders and gaining insight into Israeli advances in areas of defense, agriculture, water desalination and conservation, and commercial technology. In addition, the groups met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz, and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

“This is the largest delegation that has ever visited Israel,” said House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who led the Democratic delegation at a joint press conference of the two delegations on Sunday at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel. “We have 32 freshman members in our delegation of the 41. For many of them it is their first visit to Israel,” said Hoyer.

House Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that the U.S. relationship with Israel represents “an unwavering and undeniable bond, and the most important relationship we have in the Middle East. I want to emphasize that this is more than 15% of the entire U.S. House of Representatives with you right now.”

The concurrent trips come among growing political discord between the parties in the United States, as well as increasing calls from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, most notably “Squad” members Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to call into question America’s relationship with Israel while promoting calls for the boycott of Israeli products.

Tlaib, Omar and Ocasio-Cortez skipped the trip specifically designed for their fellow freshmen members of Congress by the American Israeli Education Foundation (AIEF), a division of the American Israeli Political Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

In response to the boycott-promoting members who did not attend under the banner of #skipthetrip, Hoyer noted that Congress recently “passed the resolution in opposition to the BDS movement, which is a movement that seeks to undermine, we believe, Israel’s security and safety,” adding that the “resolution passed with 97.5%, and that is a clear indication of united support—Democratic and Republican support together—on behalf of the same vision.”

He also said that “we believe in free speech, but we also believe that we ought not to be advocating either issues that could be perceived as, and are, anti-Semitic, or undermine Israel’s security.”

‘The Vibrancy of Debate’

Regarding an Israeli Channel 13 report that U.S. President Donald Trump was upset that Israel was opting not invoke a law that prevents BDS supporters like Omar and Tlaib from entering Israel, McCarthy and Hoyer both denied the claims.

“I do not know of the president being disappointed,” said McCarthy. “I speak to the president daily. He knows there are people who have differences of opinion.”

Hoyer noted that the president related to the report as “fake news” and then drew comparisons between the political agreements currently taking hold in the United States and those that have been taking place for decades in Israel.

“We are like Israel, and you are like us—a very vibrant democracy that welcomes and accepts different points of view,” said Hoyer. “We welcome different views because we believe the vibrancy of that debate makes us a better democracy and empowers us to make better decisions.”

Rep. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), a veteran of congressional missions to Israel, told JNS that by participating, new representatives are given the opportunity to learn firsthand about the threats Israel faces.

“This trip gives them the chance to understand the nuances, and appreciate the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship,” he said.

Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.) told JNS that “this trip has been incredible. It is an eye-opening experience. We got an inside view nobody else gets,” adding that “getting a deep dive into the politics and talking to professors and heads of state has been incredibly instructive.”

Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), on his first trip to Israel, told JNS he hopes that members of the delegations see for themselves “how small Israel is geographically and how that equates to a lot of the national security conversations that go on here.

“It’s surrounded by a whole lot of countries that wish this people significant ill will,” said Armstrong. “That plays into a lot of it.”

“Israel is the only true democracy in the Middle East,” Armstrong continued. “They are our oldest and closest ally in this region. And strengthening that is constantly what we should be worried about.”

By Alex Traiman/JNS.org