Jewish Democrat: Don't make a big deal if Tlaib leads visit to W. Bank

“Israel is giving her more attention than she deserves,” said Klein, who served two terms as a congressman from Florida, before being defeated by Alan West in 2010.

June 4, 2019 01:38
Democratic US congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib before Election Day in Michigan, 2018.

Democratic US congressional candidate Rashida Tlaib before Election Day in Michigan, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS/REBECCA COOK)


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Israeli officials should offer to meet US Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib if she brings a small group of congressmen to the West Bank in August, on a trip she is planning to run concurrently with an AIPAC-backed trip for new representatives, Ron Klein, chairman of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, told The Jerusalem Post.

“I think that they should offer to meet with her while she is here,” Klein said during a visit to the country last week. “And if she chooses to meet with them, she will meet with them. And if she doesn’t choose, then she is going to do her own agenda.”

The Post has learned that senior government officials already held a meeting last month about how to handle a possible Tlaib trip if it comes to fruition. According to a JTA report last month, the Palestinian-American representative from Michigan is planning a visit for US congressmen to the Palestinian territories from August 17-22.

This trip will run during Congress’s summer recess when the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF), a charitable organization affiliated with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), will bring freshmen Democrats and Republicans on two different trips, as it does every other August.

There are currently 101 freshmen representatives, 37 Republicans and 64 Democrats. Democrat Steny Hoyer – the majority leader in the House of Representatives – and Kevin McCarthy – the Republican minority leader – are scheduled to lead the AIEF trips. It is not yet clear how many people will join Tlaib, or the AIEF trips.

Klein’s advice to Israel is to not play up Tlaib as a major issue.

“Israel is giving her more attention than she deserves,” said Klein, who served two terms as a congressman from Florida, before being defeated by Alan West in 2010. The organization he heads describes itself as the “voice of Jewish Democrats and socially-progressive, pro-Israel values” that supports candidates and elected officials who share those values.

“She is at the bottom of the list – a freshman member of Congress,” Klein said of Tlaib. “We are not a Congress of 25 people, and she is one of them. There are 435 people in Congress – and she is a freshman member. Our leadership – both Democrats and Republicans – are very solid on Israel. She doesn’t speak for anyone except for herself and maybe her community.”

Klein said the media is giving Tlaib, as well as Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, much more attention than they deserve.

“I don’t think we should overstate their importance in Congress,” he said of the two representatives.

 “They are two freshmen members, who come from different communities. They are on committees, and they can take trips like any member of Congress. Over the years hundreds of representatives have gone to Israel, and a member of Congress has the right to go to Palestinian villages and the West Bank. I am not worried about it. The question is what influence it has over Congress, and I would suggest that it has none,” he said.

Not every opinion articulated by every member of Congress impacts policy, he stressed.

Klein said he is “absolutely not” worried that Tlaib and Omar represent the future wave of the Democratic Party regarding Israel.

At the same time, Klein said the message he brought to meetings in Israel with officials such as Yuval Rotem– the director-general of the Foreign Ministry – and Reuven Azar – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s foreign policy adviser – was: “Let’s find ways to reach out and create new ways of connecting with Democratic communities and new members [of Congress]. If people are thinking that it is all working just fine right now, it’s not. There are parts of the Democratic party that are questioning not the Israel-US relationship, but a lot of the policies.”

Klein said he feels absolutely comfortable in the Democratic Party as a strong supporter of Israel. But inside the party, he said, there are elements uncomfortable with the closeness of the Trump-Netanyahu relationship, as well as resentment “that they feel [former president Barack] Obama was treated poorly by Netanyahu.”

Klein repeated the mantra that Israel must not be turned into a partisan wedge issue, and that “anyone who tries to drive a wedge – that one political party is good on Israel, and the other is bad – is doing a great disservice to those of us who believe in the strength and the importance of Israel.”

Asked who is responsible for turning Israeli into a partisan issue, he replied: “I think [US President] Donald Trump does it from time to time, the Republicans do it from time to time.” He referred specifically to Trump’s comment in March – following a controversy over one of Omar’s statements – that Democrats have become an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish party.

“That is destructive,” Klein said of the president’s remark.

Asked it Netanyahu is also turning Israel into a partisan issue in the US, Klein replied, “I think the prime minister has to play his own politics. Clearly he has embraced the president, because from his point of view it is helping him play his role as the prime minister of Israel. I don’t see him necessarily driving a wedge, I think the president has done more of that.”

At the same time, Klein added, there are consequences to statements Netanyahu makes highlighting the closeness of the relationship with Trump. Netanyahu has said repeatedly that Trump is the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House.

“The Prime Minister is a very smart man and plays his politics well,” he said. “Assuming he knows what he’s saying, it’s hard for me to judge him other than to say that I think there are some consequences to turning off some Democrats when he says these sorts of things.”

As to what those consequences are, Klein said, “Well, potentially, that some Democrats turn against Israel.” He said this not the case for the Democratic Party as a whole, but “there are people who are looking for a reason to say, ‘Hey, there needs to be more balance with the Palestinians.’ And this gives them a calling card for that.”

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