House Democrats in Israel Say ‘Squad’ Doesn’t Speak for Party
JNS.org – Since Democrats were swept into power in the US House of Representatives in November—with some have more progressive views than in the past—questions have rattled many in the Jewish community over whether or not the party would continue its long-held support for Israel. In particular, “the Squad” of four incoming congresswomen—Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.). Rep Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who coined the term, have rifled the waters and made significant headlines recently.
Three of them (Pressley not included) have advocated for the anti-Israel BDS movement and a change in US policy towards the Jewish state.
Still, concerns over the demise of bipartisan support for Israel among this new wave of Democrats may be premature. The largest-ever delegation of Democratic members of Congress—some 41 in total—toured Israel this week. The group, led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), included 32 members of the Democratic freshman class.
“It pleases me to see so many House Democrats visiting Israel,“ Hoyer told JNS. “This reaffirms our support for a critical US ally. It is important for members to learn about the challenges and opportunities facing Israel and the Middle East.”
The visit by the Democratic congressional delegation, which was sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), an AIPAC-affiliated foundation, included meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Blue and White Party leader Gen. Benny Gantz and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.
In his address to the delegation, Netanyahu emphasized that Israel’s role in the world is shifting, and that the Jewish state is gaining partnerships throughout the world, many in places once unheard of, including Arab nations.
“We’re forging new agreements—300 agreements in three years. Given that we have a lot of holidays here, that’s about one agreement every two days. Something very, very big is happening here.”
According to AIEF, the delegation also met with young Palestinian entrepreneurs, Israeli civil-society leaders, and peace activists. Members also traveled to Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, and saw historical and cultural sites, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial and Museum.
Among their many meetings, the delegation spoke with Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the YESHA Council and the mayor of Efrat, a settlement in the disputed territories. Revivi told JNS, “I am happy to see that the members came with a desire to learn and truly understand the issues. They all asked good questions, and I am happy that a forum was presented where I could answer their questions and explain how we see the conflict and possible resolutions.”
He added, “That’s all we can ask of leaders from around the world.”
‘Where the party really is,’ despite the opposition
Despite the large turnout, the congressional trip was not without its detractors on the far-left.
Anti-Israel groups Code Pink and IfNotNow initially tried to pressure members not to join the trip, including a campaign titled #SkiptheTrip. Code Pink announced on Twitter that “the purpose of the 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. The fewer Congress members that travel with AIPAC, the better odds for peace in Israel/Palestine and for avoiding a war with Iran.”
They also called on their supporters to try to pressure members not to attend the trip.
IfNotNow called the visit one that presents “a false picture of Israel” and started an online petition against the members who were joining it.
Additionally, the several outspoken critics of Israel—Omar, Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez—didn’t go. Omar and Tlaib have announced their own delegation to the region, though no plans for such a trip have been confirmed.
Hoyer dismissed these criticisms, saying the group specifically met with key Israeli and Palestinian leaders to ensure that they would hear from all sides in the conflict and be able to frame their own opinions.
He also downplayed the impact of the three congresswomen who refused the invitation, telling JNS that “they are three out of 63 freshmen Democrats and three out of the 239 Democrats in the House. There have always been members on both sides of the aisle who have been critical of Israel, but they have always been a very small minority, and I believe they will always continue to be.”
Similarly, Mark Mellman, CEO of the Democratic Majority for Israel, said that the purported rift within the Democratic Party over Israel is overplayed in the media.
“The overwhelming majority of Democrats supports Israel. That fact has not changed at all. There are a few members from the party who do not, but unfortunately, they are the ones who get 100 times more press coverage than the rest of the party,” he stated.
Mellman pointed to the anti-BDS vote, which passed by 396-17 in the House, as an indication of “where the party really is, as opposed to the media hype over a small group of lawmakers.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is leading a mission to Israel of 30 Republican members, who arrived in Israel on Aug. 9. They are all scheduled—Democrats and Republicans alike—for a joint press conference in Jerusalem at the beginning of next week, bringing together 16 percent of the entire US House of Representative into one room in Israel.
Hoyer doesn’t see this occurrence as a simple get-together. He told JNS that “it’s important that the people of Israel and supporters of Israel hear that 90 percent of Congress supports Israel.”