41 House Democrats head to Israel amid widening partisan divide

AIPAC-linked group sponsors trip to Israel for freshman Democrats, following controversies involving several Democratic lawmakers.

David Rosenberg ,

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (c)
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (c)

Two delegations of American lawmakers are slated to visit Israel this week, organized by a group linked to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

On Monday, 41 House Democrats led by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Maryland) are scheduled to arrive in Israel, kicking off a week-long tour of the Jewish state and the Palestinian Authority.

A delegation of Republican House members is also expected to arrive in Israel this week, beginning its own seven-day tour starting Friday. The delegation will be headed by the House Minority Leader, Kevin McCarthy (California).

According to a statement by Hoyer’s office, the Democratic delegation, made up primarily of freshman lawmakers, will “learn about issues critical to the U.S.-Israel relationship and international security.”

“Members will visit Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria and see an Iron Dome battery. The delegation will also visit important historical and cultural sites, including the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.”

“I am pleased to join so many House Democrats in traveling to Israel to reaffirm our support for a critical U.S. ally and to continue learning about the opportunities and the challenges facing Israel and the Middle East,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer.

“Seeing the region firsthand and meeting with key Israeli and Palestinian leaders gives Members insights into a region that is vital both to our own national interests and to global security.”

The delegation is expected to meet with both Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his primary election rival, Blue and White party chairman Benny Gantz.

The Democratic House members will also meet with Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, as well as young entrepreneurs in the Palestinian Authority and Israeli activists.

The trip comes as following a series of high-profile controversies involving Democratic lawmakers and the Jewish state, including a string of comments by Minnesota congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, from a 2012 tweet accusing Israel of “hypnotizing” the world, to more recent claims that Jewish lobby groups had corrupted Congress.

Omar drew criticism last month when she introduced a bill supporting the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

Another Democratic lawmaker, Michigian congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, also sparked controversy both with her open support of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, as well as with a number of recent comments, including accusations of racism directed at the Israeli government, and claim that Palestinian Arabs gave Jews a “safe haven” after the Holocaust.

While moderate Democrats have criticized the freshman lawmakers, the broader partisan divide over Israel has been a long-standing issue for Democrats even before Tlaib and Omar’s election last November.

Last January, a Pew Research Center poll found that the partisan divide on Israel had reached its widest point in four decades.