Steil: Tlaib and Omar 'made a choice not to join the trip' to Israel

August 20, 2019
In The News

A bipartisan group of about 70 freshman congressmen, including U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil, R-Wis., are settling back in after a nearly week long trip to Israel.

However it was those that didn’t go that grabbed the national attention last week.

U.S Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., planned to go to Israel sponsored by a pro-Palestinian nonprofit organization called Miftah, but were last week barred from entering the country.

Steil said Tlaib and Omar “made a choice not to join the trip that we were on.”

“Everybody would benefit by seeing what the situation (in Israel) is first-hand and so I thought that the broader trip that 70 bipartisan members went on was the trip that they should have joined,” Steil said. “They turned that down and tried to create an alternative path, and then you leave it up to any given country as to who they want to allow in or not allow in their country.”

Meeting Netanyahu

Steil left for Israel on Aug. 10 and returned to the United States on Aug. 16. While on the trip, Steil met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“He is a very impressive leader with command of the issues that are in front of him,” Steil said.

Steil said Netanyahu spent about 90 minutes with the delegation and held a Q&A where congressmen asked “poignant questions.”

“He walked through why Israel’s security situation is pretty much unique to anywhere else in the world,” Steil said.

Steil’s biggest takeaway from the trip was being on the Israel-Syria border, and getting a feeling of how physically close Israel is to its enemies.

“From a U.S. context, sometimes we forget how close these borders are,” Steil said, drawing the comparison of sitting in Downtown Racine and looking into Mount Pleasant. “Realizing these are armed groups opposite of you, with significant amount of weapons and power, and it reinforces the need to make sure we stand united against these terrorist organizations that are threatening Israel, one of our greatest allies.”

Steil said he got a better sense of how U.S. policy directly affects security in Israel and particularly as it relates to the missile defense system known as the “iron dome.”

“(The iron dome is) heavily funded by the United States and it has the technological capabilities to effectively shoot down a missile while it’s flying through the air,” Steil said. “I went and visited one of these iron dome sites where they have the missile ready to launch in the case missiles are shot at Israel, which is a regular occurrence, and that relationship between the United States and Israel where that’s clearly a defensive tool … you walk away with a real clear perspective of the importance of our support in Israel.”

The group traveled by bus in Israel, and during the trip Steil got to know some of the other members of Congress.

“Those relationships are critical and are really going to be needed, big picture, if we — Congress — are able to really address some of the transformational change that we ultimately need in our country to get us moving again,” Steil said. “I always take advantage of those opportunities when I’m with my colleagues to talk about some of the big, transformative change that we need and how do we build that kind of consensus.”

Steil said he is voting on issues that affect Israel “on a regular basis” when it comes to foreign aid and other policies, and said that this trip helps him to be more informed on Israeli issues and the relationship with the U.S.

“As those votes come before Congress, I think it’s important that I’m able to gain that context of seeing it on the ground firsthand,” Steil said.

Visiting Jerusalem

While Steil described his trip as having a “robust agenda,” he said he was able to go to Jerusalem and visit some holy sites.

“For those people of faith, like myself, to be able to walk and see some of the locations where Jesus walked is a pretty powerful moment,” Steil said.

Steil said he had been to Israel on business in the past, but this is the first time he’s gone to Israel as a policymaker.

“My business trips were jam-packed and I didn’t get to see much,” Steil said. “Being able to walk into Jerusalem and see the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the place where Christians believe Christ was crucified and taken down from the cross, to be able to walk those steps, knowing that Jesus walked those steps, is pretty powerful.”