Rashida Tlaib, the first American of Palestinian descent elected to the United States House of Representatives, declared Monday that she supports the BDS Movement, adding that she plans a legislator's tour of the West Bank to create an alternative to the traditional tour of Israel given to new legislators by the pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC.
In an interview with The Intercept, Tlaib, the Michigan Democrat elected last month to Congress, compared Israel's policy in the West Bank to the racial segregation practiced in the southern United States against blacks.
“I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” Tlaib explained. “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.”
According to Tlaib, the tour she plans will focus on issues related to the Palestinians, such as the detention of minors, education and poverty. She noted that it is possible that during the tour the legislators will visit her ancestral village, Beit Ur al-Foqa, in the Ramallah area.
Tlaib also declared for the first time her support for the BDS Movement to boycott Israel. "I personally support the BDS movement," she told the website. She said the boycott would bring attention to "issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now."
Her declaration of support for BDS could make it difficult for the US legislator to enter Israel, in light of the law recently passed by the Knesset prohibiting entry into Israel of those who call for boycotting the state. In the United States, too, there is an attempt to ban the boycott movement. According to the report, the US Congress has promoted a bill on the matter.
Tlaib is the second elected legislator to announce her support for BDS. Ilhan Omar, a Somali-American representing Minnesota, has in the past called Israel an "Apartheid regime" and expressed support for boycott measures. However, during her election campaign, Omar softened her statements and claimed that the boycott of Israel was not helpful and that its right to exist should be recognized.
AIPAC offers separate trips for members of Congress from both the Democratic and the Republican parties. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md, told the Intercept website that he intends to continue leading AIPAC tours to Israel in the future.
“While it has not yet been planned, Mr. Hoyer intends to once again serve as the senior member on a delegation of Members of Congress to Israel next year,” said Annaliese Davis, a spokesperson for Hoyer.
“The delegation trip to Israel 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,” Davis wrote in a statement.
The organizers of the AIPAC trip, she added, “work hard to show both sides of that conflict,” including meetings with Palestinian leadership, the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, and “Israeli leaders from across the ideological spectrum.”
The website published some interesting data on AIPAC's tours in Israel, noting that over the last decade the lobby spent $12.9 million to take 363 lawmakers and 657 parliamentary assistants on the Israel tours. According to the site, the average cost is around $9,300 to $10,500 per participant—a price that includes a business class flight and accommodation in a luxury hotel in Jerusalem. Legislators are invited to bring along one family member.
Tlaib's statement in support of BDS is perhaps another sign of the growing gap between many Democrats in Congress and the Democratic leadership, which continues to express its support for Israel.
“Palestinian rights are being integrated into the broader progressive agenda. It’s becoming almost standard that if you support single-payer health care and climate justice, you’ll support Palestinian rights,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.