Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American elected to Congress, rejected an opportunity to go to Israel with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and is instead planning her own trip to Palestine’s West Bank.
Sounds fine, right, for a Palestinian-American government representative to visit the region she’s from? Well, not if you’re Rep. Eliot Engel, the incredibly stodgy Democratic leader of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Here’s what he told Al-Monitor, a multilingual DC-based publication that covers the Middle East, on Tuesday:
Instead of her talking about things, she’s new here, she ought to listen and learn and open her mind and then come to some conclusions. If you’re going to be close-minded and have your views, no one’s going to change her views. But I would hope that once you’re elected to Congress, you would at least care to see the other side of the coin.
Funnily enough, “seeing the other side of the coin” is exactly what Tlaib is doing. For decades, freshman members of Congress have taken trips to Israel organized by AIPAC, one of the most powerful pro-Israel lobbies on the Hill. This is, in a word, troubling!
But allowing an overtly partisan group to control the narrative of many government representatives’ first visit to a contentious region that plays an enormous part in our foreign policy has basically become an accepted part of the orientation package for new reps.
Back in December, Tlaib told the Intercept that she didn’t want anything to do with the AIPAC trips:
“I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” Tlaib said in an interview. “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.”
Will Tlaib’s trip be free from bias, implicit or explicit? Probably not. But if she wants to visit the region and schedule her own trip, it certainly shouldn’t be any more controversial than every other representative taking a Disney World tour of Jerusalem the first summer they’re in office. The AIPAC trips often include conversations with Palestinian officials, but if you think for a second that the group lets lawmakers sit down with anyone who isn’t going to reinforce their specific narrative of the region’s centuries-long conflict, you’re an absolute idiot.
Per the Hill, an aide from Engel’s office said Al-Monitor “mischaracterized” his statements, and noted that Engel meets with Palestinian leaders on his trips to the region. But it’s pretty clear which side he’s on—and awfully patronizing to tell a Palestinian-American woman she needs to “listen and learn” about the conflict before speaking up.