Before this article went to press, Congressmen Tipton and McKinley were detained by Israeli police for daring to pick up an olive branch which they found lying on the ground while touring on the Temple Mount. See our story about what happened.
On their trip to Israel this week, two U.S. Congressman are focusing on three issues: Jerusalem, including the impact of President Donald Trump’s decision to formally acknowledge the city as the capital of Israel; sovereignty, as and if the concept will be applied to Judea and Samaria; and infrastructure, particularly as it pertains to security matters.
Rep. Scott Tipton (CO-3) and Rep. David McKinley (WV-1), Republicans, are both return visitors to Israel. On this trip they seek to engage with the pressing issues through the lenses of seeing the effects in the field and discussing matters both with people on the ground, but also meeting with decision makers with the abilities to effect policy in these areas.
Ruth Lieberman of Jaffe Strategies’ Yes! Israel Project took the Congressmen to see several sites under consideration for the new U.S. Jerusalem Embassy, where the lawmakers were briefed about the pros and cons of each location, including security concerns. One such site under consideration is the current U.S. Consulate in the southern Jerusalem neighborhood of Armon HaNatziv. This U.S. consulate and another in Jerusalem are the only two U.S. consulates in the world which do not report to their corresponding U.S. Embassy, but instead report directly to the State Department.
McKinley and Tipton also visited Sderot, a western Israeli town approximately eight miles from Gaza. Sderot has endured thousands of rockets and other acts of terrorism, particularly following Israel’s 2005 peacemaking effort which entailed the withdrawal of all Jews – living and dead – from the Gaza Strip.
“Gaza is the most important experiment Israelis have ever had,” said Eeki [Elchanon] Elner, a ten-year resident of Sderot. “We pulled out all the Jews, we destroyed the Jewish homes, we handed Gaza to [the Palestinian Arabs] on a silver platter, as they requested, and 12 years later the situation is so much worse for them.”
The Congressional representatives were struck by the focus of Israeli border residents not only on their own state of constant alarm, but on the increasingly lamentable situation for Arab residents of Gaza. Various scenarios were discussed: the possibility of engaging the international community in ameliorating the situation, and also placing more of the onus on Egypt for support and recovery of Gaza, with the fervent hope that positive changes would also vastly reduce the acts and ongoing threat of terrorism for Israelis.
During a meeting at the port of Ashdod with Israel’s Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz, the Congressmen heard in detail the ramifications of having a busy port so close to the terrorism-riddled Gaza strip, which is officially run by the terrorist organization Hamas. Israel’s ability to meet the demands for a specialized infrastructure to ensure safety and efficiency of a port city is one with which American lawmakers must also familiarize themselves.
On their visit to the eastern part of Israel the American lawmakers heard a change in the discussion about the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria. While in the past nearly everyone paid some level of lip service to the so-called Two State Solution, serious discussions about the concept of sovereignty are finally being openly addressed.
“It is time to apply Israeli law [to Judea and Samaria],” said Oded Revivi, the mayor of Efrat, a town in Gush Etzion, during a discussion about the region. Revivi was speaking in his capacity as Chief Foreign Envoy of the YESHA Council (“Yehuda,” or Judea, and “Shomron,” the Hebrew name for Samaria). The message was received warmly, with the Congressmen thanking him profusely and committing to push the issue on Capital Hill.
Congressman McKinley told Revivi: “Of all the times I’ve been to Israel this was by far the best meeting I’ve had, because you are candid and came down to practical ideas. Too many times people speak from 30,000 feet, I want to hear practical ways in which we can help.”
Tipton and McKinley were in the country as part of an educational venture hosted by Proclaiming Justice to the Nations, a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Lauri Cardoza-Moore is the founder of PJTN. She told JewishPress.com that her organization’s battle against horrific anti-Semitism in American k-12 textbooks helped inspire its support for American congressional representatives seeing firsthand the facts on the ground in Israel. So PJTN prepares legislators to fight back against the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel narrative being promoted in American schools. “We will lose this country,” Cardoza-Moore said, “if elected officials don’t see firsthand the facts on the ground.”
The congressional trip was facilitated on the ground by Jaffe Strategies, and the Congressmen traveled throughout the country with representatives from Jaffe Strategies’ Yes! Israel missions. This congressional trip to Israel is one of many Jaffe Strategies has facilitated.