Democratic Congresswoman-elect Rashida Tlaib of Michigan has announced she will be leading a congressional delegation to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, an unprecedented move given the traditional nature of American Israeli Political Action Committee (AIPAC) sponsored trips to Israel for new members.
Speaking with the Intercept, Ms Tlaib—the first Palestinian-American woman elected into US Congress—said she hopes to “draw on her roots” in the Middle East to allow her colleagues a different introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the one offered from pro-Israel lobbying groups like AIPAC.
She said her delegation will emphasise on subject areas involving education, clean water access and poverty. She also hopes to take her group to Beit Ur al-Foqa, a village in northern West Bank, where her mother lives.
Ms Tlaib is unsure of who will join her delegation. She is also still working around the logistics and preparations of the trip. She is currently searching for advocacy organisations to partner with in order to fund the delegation.
One thing is for certain for Ms Tlaib: She wants her delegations “to humanise Palestinians, provide an alternative perspective to the one AIPAC pushes, and highlight the inherent inequality of Israel’s system of military occupation in Palestinian territories,” something she compares to the treatment of black Americans in the Jim Crow era.
“I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” Ms Tlaib said. “I don’t think AIPAC provides a real, fair lens into this issue. It’s one-sided. … [They] have these lavish trips to Israel, but they don’t show the side that I know is real, which is what’s happening to my grandmother and what’s happening to my family there.”
Unlike the AIPAC-sponsored trips, Ms Tlaib does not intend to meet with Israeli government officials or the Palestinian Authority.
The AIPAC-sponsored trips is part of a decades-old tradition for new members of the US Capitol building, often scheduled during the first August recess of every legislative session. The trip consists of a roughly week-long tour of Israel, and meetings with Israeli businessmen, government officials and military servicemen.
According to the Intercept, Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, of Maryland, led the Democratic tour and incoming Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, of California, led the Republican equivalent.
A spokesperson for Mr Hoyer’s congressional office confirmed that he will be leading the Democratic delegation. They also defended the trips and rebuked any allegations that the Israel trip promotes a certain kind of bias.
“The delegation trip to Israel is an opportunity for freshmen Members of Congress to learn more about regional threats and dynamics in the Middle East and the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Annaliese Davis, spokesperson for Mr Hoyer’s office, wrote in a statement. The organisers of the AIPAC trip, she added, “work hard to show both sides of that conflict,” including meetings with Palestinian leadership, the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, and “Israeli leaders from across the ideological spectrum.”
In the past decade, the American Israeli Education Foundation—the education branch of AIPAC—reportedly spent $12.9 million for 363 lawmakers and 657 congressional staff members to go on their Israel trips, the Intercept reported. The average cost for a freshman congressman to go on the trip is between $9,300 to $10,500 per participant. The cost covers all expenses: a business-class flight, transportation, meals, and lodging at a luxury hotel in Jerusalem. The lawmakers are allowed to bring of relative on the trip as well.
In addition to the anticipated West Bank trip, Ms Tlaib is also challenging AIPAC by being vocal in her support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.
“I personally support the BDS movement,” Ms Tlaib said, before arguing that economic boycotts are an effective method to address “issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now.”
Her pro-BDS statement comes a few days after her colleague Congresswoman-elect Ilhan Omar—a Democrat Minnesotan who became one of the first Muslim women elected into the US House—for expressing publish support for the movement. Ms Omar was met with fervent backlash and accused of antisemitism for her statement.
Vice President Mike Pence recently said BDS has “no place” in the US market.
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