Israel shouldn’t close the door on two freshmen Democratic congresswomen who are vocal supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, the US House majority and minority leaders said on Sunday in an early morning press conference in Jerusalem.“Everyone” should have the opportunity to see “what we see,” House Leader Minority Kevin McCarthy (R-California) told reporters in Jerusalem, as he spoke in support of a pending visit to Israel by Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).
McCarthy stood with House Majority leader Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland). Behind them in several rows stood dozens of Republican and Democratic congressmen, many of them freshmen politicians, who are in Israel on an educational tour sponsored by the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), an independent, bipartisan, nonprofit charitable foundation affiliated with AIPAC.McCarthy is leading the Republican delegation of 30 members of Congress in a tour of Israel this week, while Hoyer led 41 Democrat members of Congress through Israel last week.“This is more than 15% of the entire US House of Representatives,” McCarthy said.On Sunday, the two groups overlapped and posed for a group photo, in a show of bi-partisan support for the Jewish state, at a time when it appears to have fallen victim to political divisiveness in the United States.“I want to emphasize, we understand the importance of this [US-Israel] relationship. We understand this is a bond that has to be maintained and you have that support in the house,” McCarthy said.Among those who didn’t sign up for the trip were Tlaib and Omar who are expected to come on their own trip next week. Few details about the mission have been made public since the New York-based not-for-profit group Humpty Dumpty Institute, which was slated to plan the trip, pulled out due to scheduling conflicts.Israel has already stated that it would allow the two women into the country, in spite of Tlaib and Omar’s support for BDS. This includes comments by Tlaib likening a US boycott against Israel to boycotts of Nazi Germany in the 1930s and legislation put forward by Omar, which implicitly calls for the boycott of Israel.Israel has a dry law against that has been on the books for some two years, by which Omar and Tlaib could be denied entry for their BDS support.On Sunday night, Israeli media reported that US President Donald Trump was angry with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not using that law to bar Omar and Tlaib from the country.On Sunday morning, both Hoyer and McCarthy dismissed the report as false and threw their support behind Tlaib’s pending trip.A visit to Israel in which Omar and Tlaib will be exposed to a broad range of viewpoints could only help deepen their understanding of the issues, Hoyer said.”If they do that, I think they will [have] a better understanding and better support for both the Israeli and the Palestinian people,” Hoyer said.He explained that he had spoken with Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer prior to the issuance of a statement explaining that all US members of Congress are welcome in Israel.“Israel’s confidence as expressed by Mr. Dermer in having any member of Congress who wants to come to Israel have the opportunity to come to Israel and have access and to see what all these members have seen and will see is appropriate,” Hoyer said.McCarthy added, “The president knows there are people who have a difference of opinion.”He continued, “I think it is healthy for anyone who has that opinion to come. I feel very secure in this. Anyone who comes with open ears, open eyes and an open mind, will walk away and have an understanding just as all these [Congress] members do, that this bond [between Israel and the US] is unbreakable.”McCarthy and Hoyer spoke of the bill against BDS, which passed the House, with McCarthy likening BDS to antisemitism. McCarthy said it was unacceptable that antisemitism was rising to levels not seen since the 1930s.Hoyer said that the Democratic congressional delegation had met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and traveled to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. McCarthy’s delegation is expected similarly to meet with both leaders.With Netanyahu, Hoyer said, the delegation discussed Iran, regional threats, a two-state solution and West Bank settlements.They similarly spoke with Abbas about the two-state solution, Hoyer said. “I did not hear anything new. He [Abbas] indicated that he was prepared to sit down and negotiate without preconditions. Then he referenced a number of preconditions,” Hoyer said.He added, however, that it was important that the delegation had come.Omar recently put forth a “pro-boycott” resolution in Congress “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.”While the resolution does not mention the acronym BDS, she told the Internet news site Al-Monitor, “We are introducing a resolution… to really speak about the American values that support and believe in our ability to exercise our first amendment rights in regard to boycotting… It is an opportunity for us to explain why it is we support a nonviolent movement, which is the BDS movement.”Omar and Tlaib are scheduled to arrive in Israel on Sunday, August 18, though the date is still subject to change. Either way, their trip is not expected to overlap with these two much larger delegations.
Steny Hoyer holds press conference in Israel