Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic representative-elect from Michigan and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, will lead a delegation to Palestine in 2019 instead of participating in a sponsored trip to Israel that is traditionally offered to newly-elected members of Congress, The Intercept reported.
The week-long Israel trip, sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobby group, and organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, features a tour of Israel and meetings with Israeli government leaders. The little-known tradition is offered to both Republican and Democratic members of Congress during their freshman year and has attracted criticism for its pro-Israel influence on House members.
Tlaib, the Detroit-born daughter of Palestinian immigrants, told The Intercept that she wants to offer her colleagues an alternate perspective on the Israeli-Palestine conflict.
“I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” Tlaib told The Intercept. “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.”
Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress, also said she supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to isolate Israel economically and politically over its treatment of Palestinians.
According to The Intercept, previous AIPAC-sponsored trips to Israel by Democratic members have only included a 75-minute meeting with a Palestinian official. Though Tlaib said she is still working out her visit’s details, she said she doesn’t plan to meet with members of the Palestinian Authority or Israeli government. Instead, she hopes to meet with advocacy organizations and might even take the delegation to Beit Ur al-Foqa, the northern West Bank village where her grandmother lives.
Annaliese Davis, spokesperson for Democratic Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer, who has participated in the AIPAC trip in the past as a senior member of Congress, said the visit 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.”
“The organizers work hard to show both sides of that conflict,” Davis told INSIDER. “The delegation typically travels to Ramallah and meets with Palestinian leadership, including Mahmoud Abbas and former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad when possible; they meet with representatives from NGOs focused on promoting peace efforts, such as Peace Now; and they meet with Israeli leaders from across the ideological spectrum.”
Davis added that Hoyer “intends to once again serve as the senior member on a delegation of Members of Congress to Israel next year,” though the trip hasn’t yet been planned.
Pro-Palestine groups in the U.S. hope that Tlaib’s trip will give Congress members a “refreshening perspective” of the situation in the West Bank. Yousef Munayyer, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, told INSIDER that past Congressional trips to Israel have provided “skewed” perspectives of the conflict that benefit only one side of the issue.
“Going over there and seeing for yourself what’s taking place is one of the most important things that anybody could do and, for members of Congress in particular, to be able to look at the situation on the ground first-hand and to have to think about the role the U.S. government plays in creating that situation on the ground, that situation of injustice, is, I think, very important,” Munayyer added.
Tlaib, who called Trump Administration’s Muslim ban “textbook bigotry” and, with Ilhan Omar, will become one of the first Muslim Congresswomen in American history, has vowed to propose legislation that will “drastically expand U.S. civil rights protections to cover discriminatory impacts.” Though it is still unknown which members of Congress will join Tlaib for the West Bank visit, the Congresswoman-elect said her end goal is to humanize Palestinians.