Sunday, August 4, 2019


Amid all the noise being generated by freshman congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are harshly critical of Israel, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer will bring a large delegation of freshman Democrats here Monday for a trip Democratic leaders hope will dent a growing perception that the party no longer supports Israel.

While an anti-Israel perception may not hurt Democrats in solidly left-wing districts with few Jewish voters like the one Tlaib represents in Detroit, 39 of the party’s 62 freshmen flipped their districts from Republican to Democrat in 2018. In some of these districts, coming across as hostile to Israel – a perception that would be reinforced by pointedly refusing to take part in one of these trips on ideological grounds – could be an electoral or campaign-funding liability, not an asset.
These trips are sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a charitable foundation affiliated with AIPAC, and are organized in August of every off-election year for new members of Congress, many whom have never been to Israel before.

Hoyer will be leading the Democratic group that will arrive on Monday, and will be joined by Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. The presence of these two party leaders is an indication of the importance the party leadership attributes to the trip.

A Republican group is set to arrive on Friday, led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

The two groups will overlap for two days, and hold a joint press conference next Sunday. While the number and names of those going on the trips are being held as a closely guarded secret by the organizers, the delegations are expected to be among the largest ever.

There are presently 62 freshman Democrats and 36 first-term Republicans. The last time there was such a big freshman class was 2011, and in August of that year, 81 representatives – or nearly a fifth of the House of Representatives – came to Israel. The number who will be in the country this month is expected to be close to that.

At AIPAC’s annual policy conference in March, Hoyer said that he expects at least 30 Democrats on his trip, which would make it the largest he has led.

The reason the organizers have not yet released the names of those coming on the trip is to reduce the pressure on them to reconsider. Two far-left US groups, Code Pink and IfNotNow, have conducted a public campaign under the title #SkiptheTrip to pressure the US lawmakers not to take part.

“The purpose of AIPAC-sponsored trips is to whitewash Israel’s human rights violations and continue unchecked US financial and diplomatic support for Israel – all at the expense of Palestinian rights,” Code Pink wrote in a Twitter post, listing the names of each freshman member of Congress and whether they planned to participate.

“The fewer Congress members that travel with AIPAC, the better odds for peace in Israel/Palestine and for avoiding a war with Iran, and grassroots pressure was instrumental in pushing Congress members like Deb Haaland and Katie Hill to change their plans,” the group added.

The organization called on its supporters to “send a message now, to thank those who are rejecting AIPAC and to appeal to those who [are] still planning on going to cancel or to make plans to see the occupation with their own eyes.”

IfNotNow has organized an online petition against some of those who declared that they will be going on the trip, calling this a “one-sided” visit that paints “a false picture of Israel.”

Among those who the two far-left groups have targeted are Max Rose, a Jewish congressman representing parts of New York City; Haley Stevens, who represents Detroit suburbs; and Susan Wild from a district near Philadelphia. Each of those representatives – who have accepted invitations for the trip – won seats from a Republican in the last election and have a higher than average number of Jewish voters in their respective districts.

While all freshmen are invited by party leadership to the trip, Omar, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez – who have been very critical of AIPAC – pointedly refused the invitations.

Tlaib and Omar have said that they are planning their own trip to the “Occupied Territories,” but no details have been made public about who will join that trip, or when it will take place. Neither the US Embassy nor the Foreign Ministry had any details of that trip, and have said they were not contacted to provide logistical assistance or help set up meetings.

Both the Democratic and Republican AIEF delegations are slated to meet separately with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, as well as with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.

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