It’s one thing to talk about Israel, it’s another to experience Israel; to be on-the-ground meeting the people and hearing their hopes and fears, feeling the spirit of the nation, visiting the borders, being engulfed in the complexities, understanding the nuance, and having your own relationship with the land and the nation.
This August, 73 members of Congress had that opportunity with the American Israel Education Foundation (AIEF)—the charitable organization affiliated with AIPAC. This was the largest congressional delegation that AIEF has ever taken to Israel.
These trips provided freshmen members of the House of
Representatives—joined by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA)—and the Senate with powerful opportunities to examine the challenges and opportunities facing Israel. The week-long experience provided lawmakers with an invaluable education and allowed them to forge deep personal connections to the Jewish state.
The Democratic trip was comprised of 40 Democratic House members, 31 Democratic House freshmen, seven members of the Congressional Black Caucus, six members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and 10 freshmen members of the Progressive Caucus. The Republican trip included 31 Republican House members and 21 House freshmen members.
Together, the two trips constituted 17 percent of the House of Representatives.
Two senators also traveled to Israel with AIEF this summer.
In total, 73 members of Congress saw and experienced the Jewish homeland over the past month. To date, 67 percent of the current House of Representatives and 53 percent of the Senate has traveled to Israel with AIEF.
An On-the-Ground Experience
From highlighting the mounting threats on Israel's borders to showcasing new Israeli innovations, the trips gave these members of Congress an in-depth, firsthand look at the State of Israel.
While there, the elected officials met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Head of the Blue and White Party Benny Gantz, visited the borders with Lebanon and Syria, were briefed by leading policy and security experts, traveled to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leadership, including Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and spoke with leaders from across Israeli society.
The members of Congress learned about different aspects of Israel’s civil society and experienced Israel's diverse culture. They engaged with a young Bedouin doctor, a transgender IDF captain, an Ethiopian Jew, and one of Israel’s top experts on healthcare. Representatives visited various religious holy sites, as well as had the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and get baptized in Bethlehem.
Picture Source: Ralph Norman, Kevin McCarthy
A Bipartisan Weekend
The two trips overlapped, allowing members of Congress to gather together for a weekend of bipartisan education, engagement, and in-depth discussions about the issues defining the U.S.-Israel relationship.
They celebrated Shabbat, heard from Israelis living near the Gaza border, visited an Iron Dome battery, and met with Jewish and Arab entrepreneurs showcasing Israel’s start-up ingenuity.
The members also split into focus groups to study specific areas of U.S.-Israel collaboration—like agriculture, cybersecurity, water, desalination and energy—where strategic relationships in Israel can have a meaningful impact in their home districts.
These two days provided elected officials the unparalleled opportunity to learn about America's strategic ally, make connections with Israelis, and forge meaningful relationships across party lines.