Progressive congress members visit West Bank, meet activists

Jamaal Bowman, other progressive US lawmakers visit West Bank, meet activists
3 min read
Washington, D.C.
13 November, 2021
Progressive members of Congress visited the West Bank this week and met with Palestinian activists. Will such visits become more common?
US lawmakers visited Hebron this week. (Getty)

A congressional visit to Israel this week, which included squad member Jamaal Bowman and other progressive lawmakers, possibly shows an increase in policy representation of those who visit the politically sensitive country.

During their tour, progressive lawmakers met with Palestinian activists in the West Bank, as they were given tours of Hebron and Sussia, towns that have recently seen flare-ups between Israeli settlers and long-time Palestinian residents.

"I think it's always admirable for members of Congress to see things with their own eyes and get a first-hand look at the realities on the ground, especially a city as complicated as Hebron," Diana Greenwald, assistant professor of political science at the City College of New York, City University of New York, tells The New Arab.

"The problems facing the Palestinians are not new. They’ve been facing severe forms of discrimination since 1967," she says, referring to the difficulties of poverty and occupation in Hebron. "Some people would call it the microcosm of the occupation."

The visit comprised two groups of lawmakers, one bipartisan and another Democratic (which included Bowman and fellow progressive Marc Pocan). The Democratic group was sponsored by J Street, the pro-Israel lobby group that supports a two-state solution, condemns illegal settlements and it does not support BDS (though it has spoken out against laws suppressing the boycott). While there, some of the lawmakers also met with the Israeli anti-occupation NGO Breaking the Silence, founded by ex-Israeli soldiers.

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This trip appears to be something of a shift (though not unprecedented) from typical congressional delegations to Israel, where politicians are brought to specific places of interest to shine a positive light on Israel. With Benjamin Netanyahu, with his inflammatory rhetoric and often erratic policies, now out of office, the much more diplomatic Naftali Bennett might be more palatable to some. The basic policies for both leaders, however, remain essentially the same: the continued expansion of Israeli settlements and displacement of Palestinians.

"They've co-opted this deceptive machine to make Bennett look more progressive than Netanyahu," Ayah Ziyadeh, advocacy director for Americans for Justice in Palestine Action, tells TNA. "Netanyahu was hostile, and Bennett is welcoming. But his actions are the same.

"The response from our end is we just don’t want these progressive members to be misled or to think it’s not that bad," she says.

So far, there doesn't appear to be a shift by progressive lawmakers on their support for Palestinian rights. In September, nine congress members voted against extra funding for the Iron Dome, the Israeli air defence system. Bowman voted for it, while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez voted present, a sign that even progressives feel pressure on their votes related to Israel.

Nevertheless, these trips could be a good way for lawmakers to observe first-hand what is happening on the ground in Israel.

"If a member of Congress has an opportunity to go to Israel and Palestine, it is critical that they meet with everyday Palestinians and learn about how the occupation and discrimination affects their everyday lives," says Greenwald. "Maybe it will be increasingly common to seek out those perspectives."