On Monday, House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) will be bringing a large delegation of freshman Democratic members of Congress to Israel. The Trip is sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). A Republican group is scheduled to arrive in Israel on Friday.
These trips to Israel are organized in August of every off-election year for new members of Congress. Hoyer will be joined by chairman of the House Democratic Caucus Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY). The presence of these party leaders shows the importance the trip has to party leadership. It is part of the effort to squash some of the questioning of the US-Israel relationship that has been growing within the party.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) are not attending the trip, citing their criticism of AIPAC and the Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza. Omar and Tlaib have both announced plans to visit Israel and the West Bank, separate from the AIPAC trip.
Activists groups like CODEPINK have called on freshmen members of Congress to follow suit and also “Skip the Trip.”
CODEPINK’s website says, “The purpose of AIPAC-sponsored trips is to whitewash Israel’s human rights violations and continue unchecked U.S. financial and diplomatic support for Israel — all at the expense of Palestinian rights.”
The trip comes after the House overwhelmingly passed a symbolic resolution condemning the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. BDS is a campaign that was started to pressure Israel over the occupation of Palestine.
The anti-BDS resolution says BDS “does not favor a two-state solution.” Support for the two-state solution was the excuse progressive members of Congress like Reps Ro Khanna (D-CA) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) used for voting in support of it. The week of the resolution’s passing Israel demolished 10 Palestinian apartment buildings in East Jerusalem. Last week, Israel approved 6,000 new homes to be constructed for Jewish settlers in the West Bank.
Although the anti-BDS resolution doesn’t actually restrict Americans from boycotting Israel, some States prohibit contractors from doing so. Bahia Amawi, a speech pathologist that worked for a school district in Texas since 2009 was going to sign a contract renewal in 2018 when she noticed an addition.
The addition was a certification Amawi had to sign that pledged she “does not currently boycott Israel,” and that she “will not boycott Israel during the term of the contract.” Amawi refused to sign and lost her job. She’s since filed a lawsuit against the school district and the Texas attorney general.
Over the past four years, 27 states have passed similar anti-BDS legislation. Most of the legislation requires state contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel.
The anti-BDS resolution will probably also be used to prevent Rep. Omar’s recently introduced resolution from ever getting a vote. Omar’s resolution is for the purpose of “Affirming that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up for reelection again in September. Netanyahu failed to form a government after elections in April, forcing Israelis to go back to the polls. Any support from Washington is good for Netanyahu’s chances of reelection. The Democrats are doing as much damage control as they can to prove that the party is still strongly in support of Israel.