You may recall that over the summer there was a lot of media coverage regarding Israel denying visits to Democratic congresswomen, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. After announcing their plans and itinerary for the trip, which mainly consisted of visits to Palestinian areas, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to the pair’s request to visit, “As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to all its critics and criticism, with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry of people who call and operate to boycott Israel.”
This story dominated the news for about a week, and many officials were quick to comment. U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) called the act a “shameful and unprecedented move.” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) tweeted, “Denying them entry into #Israel is a mistake. Being blocked is what they really hoped for all along in order to bolster their attacks against the Jewish state.” Others such as the American Jewish Congress called the trip a “propaganda exercise,” since most of their plans included meetings and visits with only Palestinian officials and towns.
But, amidst all of these conflicting views, an article in the New Yorker brought an essential quote from the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to the discussion. As stated in the article, even though AIPAC disagrees with Omar and Tlaib’s “anti-Israel” positions, the organization said, “we also believe every member of congress should be able to visit and experience our democratic ally Israel firsthand.”
At first glance, this quote is an unexpected one, considering that AIPAC has publicly spoken against Omar and Tlaib numerous times. However, it is less surprising when you look at what else was occurring in Israel that week. A trip sponsored by AIPAC and the American Israeli Education Foundation took 72 members of Congress, their largest trip ever, on a tour of Israel. Forty-one of these congressmen were democrats, making this trip a complete representation of Israel’s bipartisan support in congress.
I was able to attend a talk by two of Utah’s congressmen, John Curtis (R-UT) and Ben McAdams (D-UT). “Anyone who went on that trip not understanding the complexity of the issue certainly did after,” they explained.
“I thought I would go and just all of a sudden have the answer to solve all of the conflict, but they took us to a site on the border with Lebanon and showed us the tunnels that terrorists had been pouring copious amounts of money and time into, all so that they would be closer to hurting Israelis,” Rep. McAdams stated “And as I stood there, at the opening, I was in shock, I could just feel the hatred.” Rep. Curtis went on to explain, “I always knew that we were important to Israel, but when the trip was over, I really learned how important Israel is to the United States.”
Another testament to Israel’s bipartisan support in the United States Congress can be observed in H.Res.246, which reaffirms its commitment to supporting Israel stating its intention, “To oppose the global boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement, and other efforts targeting Israel. The resolution urges both sides to return to direct negotiations and expresses support for a solution resulting in the state of Israel existing alongside a democratic Palestinian state.” The resolution passed with 398 ‘yes’ votes, and of the 432 representatives present that day, it came to a ninety- two percent agreement on the need for the continuous support of Israel.
If support for Israel becomes a partisan issue, some American Jews will be forced to pick between continuing support for their homeland or siding with a party that does not support Israel but addresses some of their domestic concerns.
All in all, though the media tends to report on those who disagree or have issues with Israel, the vast majority of the United States Congress supports Israel and understands Israel’s role as the lone democratic state in the Middle East. As said by Rep. McAdams, “Support for Israel cannot become a partisan issue since it will pose a threat to both the United States, and Israel.”